Techno-gaming: Residents dance, cycle and play their way through rehab

Most residents view their physical or occupational therapy regimens as a chore, but some companies have harnessed technology to engage residents in fun activities to inspire their therapy—without residents realizing they’re actually doing the hard work their doctors ordered. Virtual reality and other technology-assisted game systems have garnered plenty of attention in long-term care’s falls prevention initiatives, too; assisting residents with flexibility, joint replacement rehab, gait and balance training.

In just the past three years, a slew of scientific journals have published research on the benefits of technology-based “exergames” for physical rehabilitation, especially for those with strokes, joint replacements, traumatic brain injury, motion limitations and imbalance. Many studies have connected body and brain, noting that exercise not only improves muscular and cardiovascular systems, but also improves cognitive function and mood.

Aging brains need plenty of mental exercise, too—software companies now offer dozens of computer programs to stretch residents’ brains. Memory care units have touted the positive effects of gaming technology on those with dementia, helping to encourage attention spans, engagement, mental acuity and social interaction. Recent clinical trials published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine indicate that seniors exercise more—and have higher cognitive functions—when they have a moving scene to watch, even if they know it’s just virtual reality.

The Nintendo Wii, Microsoft Kinect for XBox 360, andPlayStation Move and other systems offer extensive libraries of games and exercise programs that let seniors dance, do yoga and even bowl their way to better balance and circulatory fitness. Best of all, the exercise sessions can be customized for each resident.

It’s Never 2 Late, an adaptive technology company based in Colorado, specializes in interactive cognitive and physical stimulation, dexterity games, fine-motion therapy and memory care. And no mouse needed here: The interactive touch screen allows the programming to integrate hand-eye coordination. Honing in on the industry dovetailing of senior services and therapy care plans, the company forged a partnership with Brookdale Senior Living in Aug 2012 to use this computer technology to enhance dementia care at the Clare Bridge communities and its 250 locations nationwide.

Ontario, Canada-based Touch2Play offers portable and tabletop consoles with touchscreen technology designed specifically for care environments. The system has access to more than 100 games that stretch the imagination, test strategy, quiz the memory and hone hand-eye coordination.

A multi-university team of neuroscientists at Lumos Labs created to sharpen the cognitive skills of those with aging or injured brains and to promote “brain training” at earlier ages. Far more than memory training, these programs can be tailored to each resident with a unique login, including specific types of congitive functions like calculating math, multitasking, dissecting complex problems, improving reaction times, making decisions and adapting to environmental changes.

Technology-based “therapytainment” systems ask residents to learn, work and play simultaneously—from the hard work of physical rehabilitation to the fun challenge of a puzzle. Many programs can be used alone or in groups, and can be used in short segments or at length. Today’s mobile platforms and wireless connectivity leave no one out—if residents can’t come to the console, caregivers can bring the console to them.

“The takeaway here is that one of the key components of brain health—whether or not dementia or a behavioral or developmental disorder is involved—is regular physical activity and exercise,” said Keith Black, MD, Chair of Neurosurgery at Los Angeles’ Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, in an blog. “Whether it’s a jog around a real park or a virtual one is up to you.”

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