Virtual reality video games, activity monitors, and handheld computer devices can help people stand as well as walk, according to an Australia-based study published in PLoS Medicine looking at the effects of digital devices in rehabilitation.

The trial took place in Sydney’s Liverpool Hospital, Bankstown-Lidcombe Hospital, and Adelaide’s Repatriation General Hospital, and included 300 participants ranging in age from 18 to 101 years old who were recovering from strokes, brain injuries, falls, and fractures.

Participants used on average four different devices while in hospital and two different devices when at home. Fitbits were the most commonly used digital device, but also tested on people in hospital and at home were a suite of devices like Xbox, Wii and iPads, making the exercises more interactive and enabling remote connection with their physiotherapist.

The digital devices included virtual reality video games, activity monitors, and handheld computer devices aimed at enabling a higher dose of therapy.

Those who exercised using digital devices in addition to their usual rehabilitation were found to have better mobility (walking, standing up and balance) after 3 weeks and 6 months, according to a media release from University of Sydney.

Patients using the digital devices in rehabilitation reported benefits including variety, fun, feedback about performance, cognitive challenge, enabled additional exercise, and potential to use the devices with others (eg, family, therapists, and other patients), the study’s lead author, Dr Leanne Hassett from the University of Sydney, notes in the release.

“These benefits meant patients were more likely to continue their therapy when and where it suited them, with the assistance of digital health care,” says Hassett, from the university’s Faculty of Medicine and Health.

People were young at heart when it came to devices, she adds.

“Participants loved Fitbits; one woman would demand to put it on in the middle of the night before she went to the toilet, to make sure all her steps were counted,” shares Hassett, who is a Senior Research Fellow in the Institute for Musculoskeletal Health and Senior Lecturer in the Discipline of Physiotherapy.

“This model of rehabilitation therapy proved to be feasible and enjoyable, and demonstrated that it could be used across different care settings, such as post-hospital rehabilitation, with mostly remote support by the physiotherapist.

“The study shows that future physical rehabilitation models should look at including digital devices to improve both inpatient and post-hospital rehabilitation,” she suggests.

The next step will be to trial the approach into clinical practice by incorporating it into the work of physiotherapists; recruitment for this is likely in 12 to 18 months, the release concludes.

[Source(s): University of Sydney, MedicalXPress]