A new study into the use of technology in rehabilitation has found that video games and other digital devices when used in conjunction with exercise can increase mobility in patients undergoing physical rehabilitation.
The trial published in the online journal PLOS Medicine, undertaken by the University of Sydney (UTS) at Liverpool Hospital and Bankstown-Lidcombe Hospital in Sydney, and in Adelaide’s Repatriation General Hospital - is the largest of its kind, with 300 participants aged between 18 and 101 years old.
The lead author of the trial was Dr Leanne Hassett, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Musculoskeletal Health.
The study measured patients ability to do certain tasks when electronic games like on the Nintendo Wii and Xbox Connect were integrated into their care, and a group that did not use the electronic aids.
“Those who received the additional therapy, they improved in their standing, walking and stepping… more than other groups,” she said.
Results showed participants exercising with digital devices - in addition to their usual rehabilitation program - could walk and stand easier, and had better balance after as little as three weeks.
“The benefits meant patients were more likely to continue their therapy when and where it suited them, with the assistance of digital healthcare,” Hassett said.
Selecting the devices for the trial was an important part of the study, said Hassett, and a detailed protocol was developed to aid the process.
To aid in their recovery, participants used four different gaming devices. These include the: Nintendo Wii, the Xbox Kinect and two other rehabilitation specific gaming systems such as Dutch ‘physio gaming’ and US developed ‘HUMAC’ which use gaming to encourage small amounts of repetitive movement and gives immediate feedback on patient progress.
“To improve, you have to practice what you need to get better at,” she said.
“[Patients] loved the feedback that it gave them, it really helped to motivate them to do more walking, which was great.”
Hassett said when selecting games that could be used it was important to find options that gave researchers the ability to progress people through their rehabilitation.
Hassett said this model of rehabilitation therapy has a lot of potential as a lower cost form of treatment, and said she believed the use of digital devices in rehab will be increasingly important in the future.
“The numbers going into inpatient rehab in Australia is increasing, so we need to look at affordable models of rehab,” she said.
Hassett said the next step will be to see how the process translates to busy, working physiotherapists and said she hoped the success of training the research physios would carry over.