Technology Trial Starts to Help Rehabilitation Patients

By Petrina Smith
Friday, 10 October, 2014

Researchers have started the world’s biggest  technology trial looking at whether computer games, iPad apps and interactive can can aid in rehabilitation from falls, strokes and brain injuries.
The trial is a comprehensive, high-quality, National Health and Medical Research Council-funded study that includes 300 patients and a team of health professionals, engineers, designers and consumers across three Australian states. The ultimate aim is to use technology to enhance rehabilitation outcomes without a great increase in costs.
Previous studies have generally been smaller and have looked at the role of only one device.
Study leader and physical activity researcher Professor Cathie Sherrington, from The George Institute for Global Health and the University of Sydney, said: “Given the diversity of rehabilitation patients, we suggest different people will do better with different technologies.”
“Smartphones, tablets and computer games are part of most households these days, and we’re looking to see what modern technology can contribute to rehabilitation techniques that have been established over decades,” said Professor Sherrington.
“We know that more exercise is associated with better outcomes, and technology may provide a way to achieve more exercise without extra staff time as the devices offer feedback and encouragement and can be fun.”
The study uses a variety of commercially available games or equipment such as Wii Fit, Xbox Kinect and pedometers such as Fitbits, and specially designed devices, such as stepping tiles developed at The University of Technology and home exercise iPad apps developed by The George Institute and Flinders University.
The devices enable feedback about performance of simple exercises, such as standing up and stepping - either by the control of the figures in the game by the person’s movement, such as Xbox Kinect, or by simpler feedback on a screen, such as how much weight is on the left leg while standing.
Chief Investigator Dr Annie McCluskey, from The University of Sydney’s Faculty of Health Sciences, will be finding out what patients thought of their experience, and using the information to tweak the programme. “It’s important to understand what it’s like for patients, and whether they enjoy the experience, which in turn makes them more likely to increase their participation rates and so raise their exercise levels.”
Associate Professor Bert Bongers and his team, from the Interactivation Studio at the University of Technology, Sydney, developed a set of interactive stepping tiles to help patients practise balancing and stepping exercises. "We have designed the Stepping Tiles in close collaboration with the therapists and patients. As a result the Tiles successfully inform and motivate the users, and they are in constant use in the hospitals."
Researchers are recruiting three groups of participants - older people recovering from falls, middle- aged to older people recovering from stroke, and younger adults recovering from traumatic brain injuries most commonly from motor vehicle accidents.
Three hospitals are taking part – the Rehabilitation units at Bankstown-Lidcombe Hospital, the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit at Liverpool Hospital and the Rehabilitation units at Adelaide’s Repatriation General Hospital.
Researchers are from The George Institute, The University of Sydney, Flinders University, the University of Tasmania, the University of Technology Sydney as well as from the three Hospitals involved.

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