Virtual gaming helps rehab patients get back on their feet

Friday, 21 February, 2020

Virtual gaming helps rehab patients get back on their feet

A global trial into the effects of digital devices in rehabilitation has found that virtual reality (VR) video games, activity monitors and handheld computer devices can help people stand and walk. Reported to be the largest worldwide study of this kind, the trial took place in three Australian hospitals led by the University of Sydney and included an international team of experts. The findings of the trial are published in PLOS Medicine.

Three hundred participants ranging from 18 to 101 years — recovering from strokes, brain injuries, falls and fractures — used an average of four different devices such as Fitbits, Xboxes, Wiis and iPads while in hospital and two different devices after they returned home. The digital devices were chosen based on what would suit each patient’s walking and standing challenges as well as taking into account their preferences and rehabilitation goals. Fitbits were the most commonly used digital device.

The digital devices included VR video games, activity monitors and handheld computer devices aimed to enable a higher dose of therapy, make exercises more interactive and enable remote connection with participants’ physiotherapists.

Those who exercised using digital devices in addition to their usual rehabilitation were found to have better mobility (walking, standing up and balance) after three weeks and six months.

Lead author Dr Leanne Hassett from the University of Sydney said the benefits reported by patients using the digital devices included variety, fun, feedback about performance, cognitive challenge. Participants said the devices enabled additional exercise and provided opportunities to use the devices with others (eg, family, therapists and other patients).

“These benefits meant patients were more likely to continue their therapy when and where it suited them, with the assistance of digital health care,” Dr Hassett said.

“Participants loved Fitbits: one woman would demand to put it on in the middle of the night before she went to the toilet, to make sure all her steps were counted.

“This model of rehabilitation therapy proved to be feasible and enjoyable, and demonstrated that it could be used across different care settings, such as post-hospital rehabilitation, with mostly remote support by the physiotherapist.

“The study shows that future physical rehabilitation models should look at including digital devices to improve both inpatient and post-hospital rehabilitation.”

The next step will trial the approach in clinical practice by incorporating it into the work of physiotherapists.

Image credit: © Grinvalds

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