Virtual reality and video games, most often associated with leisure time activities, show great promise for patient rehabilitation, new research shows.
Robert C. Ferguson, MHS, OTRL, of the University of Michigan Stroke Rehabilitation Program and an occupational therapy clinical specialist, and his colleagues are using a computer therapy lab to help rehabilitate cognitive and physical skills to improve function and independence among stroke patients.
More recently, however, Ferguson and his team have observed that these rehabilitation programs might also benefit patients with rheumatologic disorders. Ferguson will discuss these advances in a Clinical Practice session on Monday. The session, Make Rehab Fun: Virtual Reality & Therapeutic Gaming, will take place from 9:00 – 10:00 am in Room B213-B214, Building B of the Georgia World Congress Center.
“I started the virtual reality program a couple of years ago with our spinal cord injury and other neurologically injured populations, but noticed the potential benefit for other diagnoses and conditions,” Ferguson said. “Patients with cancer-related diagnoses or complications, but also with a lot of comorbidities, anecdotally reported improved management of pain and range of motion.”
The virtual reality employed by Ferguson is not what is seen in video game platforms such as the Nintendo Wii or the Microsoft Kinect. Instead, patients are immersed in a fully digital world using head-mounted displays.
“When patients were reaching out and seeing a virtual hand doing hand movements, we found they were moving with greater range of motion with an increased tolerance,” Ferguson said. “Anecdotally, patients then reported that when they left to go to their more traditional therapy they were able to tolerate it more.”
This leads to the question, “What more can we be doing with virtual reality to devise a program that would be beneficial related to rheumatologic conditions?” Ferguson said.
During his session, Ferguson will talk about some of the immersive technologies employed by his lab and compare a few so attendees will have an idea of what system might fit within their clinical settings. He will also discuss how to look at some of the virtual reality content in order to analyze what would be appropriate content for use with patients with rheumatologic conditions.
Ferguson will also discuss some precautions or contraindications to virtual reality therapy.
The number one thing Ferguson thinks attendees will gain from the session, is a desire to start thinking about and doing research with immersive virtual realities with their patients in rheumatology.
“In computer therapy we use technology to help patients work toward their goals. Whether it is a functional goal like putting a shirt on or brushing their hair, we provide activities with basic movement to build their capacity to do that,” Ferguson said. “I want people to think about how they can collaborate to create new treatment approaches as well as maybe consider providing new resources in research into rheumatologic diagnoses.”