Virtual reality technology helps local physical rehab patients

News-DemocratOctober 14, 2013 

Usually patients undergoing physical rehabilitation do not look forward to their appointments with physical therapists.

But one metro-east nursing home have made these sessions something not to dread. Cedar Ridge Health and Rehab Center in Lebanon introduced a computer-generated virtual rehabilitation three months ago. The new Omni VR system provides clients active exercises that are more enjoyable and entertaining than traditional modes of rehabilitation.

"It is incredible," said Cedar Ridge Health and Rehab Center Executive Director Ashley Huels. "It gives residents the joy of going to therapy, not traditional walking on a treadmill or walking down a hallway. They can actually see their results."

The flat digital screen leads the patient along different activities that helps them get on their feet, improving their balance and coordination. The Omni VR is like the Nintendo Wii video game system and uses a sophisticated 3D camera to capture the patient's image. But this computer software is specifically created for physical therapy. An infrared camera converts a patient's image into an "avatar" so they can see on the screen how their bodies are moving. Therapists guide patients through simulated activity in an interactive game-like environment displayed on the large color monitor.

The system is used for patients undergoing physical, occupational and speech therapy. Huels said patients play bingo, volleyball and other games on the system, which is focused on giving patients positive feedback and reinforcement.

"It's awesome," she said.

She said a 74-year-old man who suffered a stroke recently improved his balance after receiving virtual rehabilitation therapy on the Omni VR at Cedar Ridge. She said the daily therapy sessions were designed specifically for the patient and ignited his drive to pursue more challenging activities that he was once hesitant to try. She said this gave him a sense of accomplishment.

This technology is provided by Accelerated Care Plus, based in Reno, Nev. Smithton resident Lynn Fournie is physical therapist and clinical program manager for the company, and she trains other physical therapists on how to use the Omni VR. She said it is one of about 10 in use in the St. Louis area and has produced great results.

"What it really helps patients do is focus on exercise and not their impairments, instead of sitting there all day long and doing a few leg kicks and arm raises, which gets tedious at times," Fournie said. "Using this virtual reality system gets them up and doing more repetitions. It's kind of an exciting piece of equipment. It's been very exciting to see the results."

Cedar Ridge is at 1 Perryman St., where clients receive outpatient physical therapy as well as short-term and long-term care. Fifty of the 116 beds at Cedar Ridge are for short-term patients staying 100 days or fewer, and the rest are for those needing longer term care.

Contact reporter Will Buss at wbuss@bnd.com or 239-2526.

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