Rehab clinics to employ patient gaming therapy

Motion-sense video games have found a higher calling than simple entertainment. A researcher at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies, Belinda Lange, has been exploring the potential this type of gaming has to improve the way physical rehabilitation is performed and monitored.

“This game-based technology can really help us to, firstly, encourage people to do their exercises,” Lange said. “Secondly, we can collect some data that will help us to see how people are doing their exercises and how they’re improving over time, and we don’t have that capability right now.”

Since 2010, Lange and her team have been developing a motion-sense application called Jewel Mine, which is aimed at addressing the unique challenges physical therapists face in their daily work. Lange’s team uses focus groups and frequently tests prototypes in local clinics to ensure the needs of both physicians and patients are being met.

“We’re really focusing on how can this be used in the clinical setting and how can we get this application to be something that physicians understand, patients understand, and we know that they’ll use it together because we’ve been working with them along the way,” Lange said.

The project began after Nintendo released its Wii gaming system. Researchers took notice of the immense popularity of the games on the platform and the ability games such as the Wii Fit had to motivate people to get moving.

“[We were] watching people use the [Wii Fit] balance platform and really seeing them want to shift their weight, which is always exciting, for a physical therapist at least,” Lange said.

Lange said the need for gaming technologies specific to physical rehabilitation quickly became apparent.

The first alteration to the motion-sense gaming system was the ability to customize exercises on a patient-by-patient basis. To do this Lange said there needed to be a stronger emphasis on specific areas of the body and restricting certain movements dependant upon the abilities of the individual.

“For example, someone who had a stroke might not be able to move one side of their body, yet the games can’t be changed in order to have them fit their level of ability,” Lange said.

The second area of concern was the commentary games like the Wii Fit provided to its users.

“The feedback is really negative [in video games],” Lange said. “In the rehab setting we really have to be careful about what we say to people because that can really change the way they feel about continuing doing exercises.”

These problems were some of the first addressed by Lange’s team, who has been knit-picking the project to perfection ever since and as the project has grown, so has the distribution of the application.

“Since 2010 we’ve been going through [the aforementioned process] with a number of existent clinics around the Los Angeles area and now we’ve reached about four clinics around the U.S. as well,” Lange said.

Lange said many physicians and their patients are beginning to view this application as a helpful and innovative method to add to their rehabilitation programs.

“It’s helping them to realize their potential because they’re focusing on a game and not focusing on what they can’t do,” Lange said.