By Benjamin Goodin
Fat bundles of grapes rain from the sky. They don’t plummet as you might expect grapes to do in gravity, instead they descend with the drift of a kite losing altitude. Below, a fox dashes about the open field, snatching what bundles she can before they are ruined from impact. The more she catches, the more quickly the bundles descend in response. A few clusters she cannot save, but the fox enthusiastically darts about the field still, eager to succeed.
No, this isn’t a fairy tale; it’s the new face of rehabilitative therapy.
In the Bounce Back therapy gym at Liberty Village of Clinton, Loretta retakes her seat in the middle of a cleared portion of the floor. The large flat-screen television in the center of the space switches from the game to a display of Loretta’s performance, listing the duration of her play, the number of grapes she caught, the number of grapes she missed, and other metrics of her session.
The physical therapist smiles from nearby and congratulates Loretta on her improved performance. Slightly taxed, Loretta beams, “I get to go home soon!”
There have been a lot of smiling faces like Loretta’s in the Bounce Back after the recent installation of the OmniVR® Virtual Rehabilitation system — the newest addition to the equipment in use at Bounce Back. The Bounce Back program is Liberty Village’s approach to rehabilitation that sets the stage for successful outcomes. By utilizing state-of-the-art therapy equipment like the OmniVR, the interdisciplinary team of experienced professionals at Bounce Back can provide individualized, person-centered treatment. For individuals recovering after a hospitalization due to surgery or illness, the Bounce Back team can help patients rehab, recover and return home.
The system that is causing such a stir doesn’t look much different than the AV cart used in public schools on highly anticipated “movie days.” It’s a tall, slender rolling cart outfitted with a large flat-screen television, a compact printer, and a keyboard. The real magic comes from the unobtrusive camera mounted atop the television: this device “sees” the room around it, tracking the movements of the patient standing in front of it. Jason Mahilo, who works for Hanger, the company that created the OmniVR, explains that the camera will interpret a patient’s movements into input for the current game — their body becomes the controller without any restrictive wires, leads, or headsets.
OmniVR units currently come pre-installed with 22 therapy programs, all cleverly disguised as video games which test and measure different physical and occupational therapy objectives: balance, gait, dexterity, fatigue, responsiveness, sitting and standing, and other fitness skills. Each game engages vital skills differently, allowing therapists to select a regimen of games to play that focus on each patient’s therapy goals — a level of differentiation and customization that is a core tenant of the Bounce Back program. At the completion of each game, in-game performance is translated to real-world statistics of the patient’s technical performance — a handy tool for therapists to check progress and set goals, for a patient to understand their progress, and for insurance companies and physicians to monitor treatment.
Framing physical activity and cognitive therapy tasks as a game seems like a natural fit: both have clear objectives for victory, they have slowly escalating difficulty, and both require mastery of a set of skills through repetition. Unlike the quarter-devouring arcade games of the past, OmniVR games are designed to slowly strengthen patients to achieve victory, not frustrate them into spending their pocket money.
The objectives for each game are customizable for each individual’s current ability level to ease them toward gaining endurance and building strength. There is an option to do many of the games in seated or standing postures, as appropriate for the patient’s needs. In addition, many of the games even adapt their difficulty on the fly to accommodate good and bad days — if a patient was having an off day with balance and reaction while playing the fox-and-grape game, the program would begin to drop fewer grapes, and they would descend more slowly until the patient showed a trend of improvement. A good day for the same patient would see more bundles dropping and descending faster from the top of the screen to strengthen their reflexes.
While these simple games do much to build and rebuild discreet physical abilities, there are more advanced exercises available to integrate and further strengthen skill sets in a real-world context. One example of this is the walking simulator game built into the OmniVR. On the surface, the game resembles a friendly walking simulator that clocks endurance in steps travelled and gait speed, but under the simple surface, a number of the game-like elements build competence in real-life situations. Getting to the goal requires a player to navigate past other pedestrians and avoid hazards like banana peels. Cars zoom through the streets and can foil the player unless crosswalks and traffic signals are used properly. They may seem like playful gamification elements, but these exercises do much to improve cognition and awareness, and help a senior prepare for life at home, outside of a structured environment, once again.
What really gets patients and therapists smiling is a simple truth — games are fun, whereas physical therapy isn’t always fun for struggling patients. Much like how gyms have taken to installing TVs above treadmills and piping in energetic music to help workouts become more tolerable, fun, it seems, is the silver bullet for making repetition and difficulty not just tolerable, but desirable. “It’s really reduced the number of refusals from people who need therapy… some won’t do it unless they get to use the VR,” comments one therapist. Another chimes in, “it’s more fun than them [a patient] having to stand and listen to me give instructions.” Since each therapy game on the OmniVR has clear, easy-to-remember instructions, therapists are spending less time leading exercises and more time focusing on the patient as encouraging and supportive teammates, helping form the bonds of partnership and a patient’s agency in their own recovery. This simple, intuitive interface also does much to ease therapy tasks for memory care patients, who may struggle with complex verbal instructions. The formula is very engaging. Jokingly, a therapist questions Loretta, “Would you rather stand and talk to me or do this?” With a chuckle, Loretta immediately responds, “This.” There’s even a built-in Bingo game on the OmniVR, which therapists say is not only fun, but is a great reward for those that require further incentive to coax them to the therapy gym.
The soaring popularity of the OmniVR is keeping Bounce Back full between therapy sessions, too. Some of the games aren’t just for individual improvement, they can be played in pairs as well. Gentle competition seems to be a great motivator for some seniors, providing them with new diversions and additional opportunities to be social and make friends. This serves as therapy for more than just the body.
Bounce Back at Liberty Village of Clinton is the only therapy program in DeWitt County, and one of only a handful in Central Illinois, that have employed the OmniVR rehabilitation system. With this advanced modality, they are able to deliver more consistent, more personalized, and more effective physical, occupational, speech, and cognitive therapy than before — and mostly importantly, residents love it. If first impressions are any indication, then Liberty Village won’t be alone for long, but they’ll still always be first.
To see the OmniVR system demonstrated in person, to learn more about the Bounce Back rehabilitation program, or to schedule a personalized tour of the Liberty Village of Clinton campus, call 217-935-8500, or email libertyvillageofclinton.com.
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