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Interactive Video Games Enhance Physical Therapy For ICU Patients

A recent study suggests that the use of interactive video games during rehabilitation may enhance physical therapy in ICU patients. The report from research facility Johns Hopkins, entitled Journal of Critical Care, studied the feasibility of using video games to complement physical therapy in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

For the study, researchers of Johns Hopkins involving 22 critically ill adult patients for a one-year period who received video games as part of routine physical therapy.

All of these patients participated in 42 therapy sessions using video game consoles such as Nintendo Wii and Wii Fit. Interactive video games that are mostly played by the patients include boxing, bowling, and use of the balance board.

These 22 patients completed this activity in nearly half of the 20 minutes session and directly supervised by a physical therapist. The involved patients were mostly male between the ages of 32 and 64, and were suffering from health issues like respiratory failure, sepsis (inflammation throughout the body), and cardiovascular problems.

“Patients admitted to our medical intensive care unit are very sick and although has received early physical therapy, they still have problems with muscle, balance and coordination as they recover,” said lead researcher, Michelle E. Kho from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland.

“We are always looking for creative ways to improve rehabilitation care for critically ill patients, and our study suggests that interactive video games could be helpful,” she added.

According to Dale M. Needham, senior author of the study, patients specifically enjoyed variation in their therapy routines and the challenge of the games. Other potential advantages that complement other forms of therapy include lower equipment costs, the potential for greater patient interest and motivation for therapy and the brevity of these activities, which are good for recovering patients.

“As always, patient safety was a top priority, given that healthy people playing video games may be injured during routine gaming, but when properly selected and directly supervised by experienced ICU physical therapists, patients enjoyed the challenge of the video games and welcomed the change from their physical therapy routines,” said Dale M. Needham, M.D. ,Ph.D., associate professor and medical director of the Critical Care Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Program at Johns Hopkins.

Needham added that video game therapy is short in duration, which can be beneficial for patients in poor physical condition and less expensive compared to most used ICU equipment.

Added to regular physical therapy, interactive video games can increase the interest of patients in do more therapy. More research is needed to determine whether the video games can improve the ability of patients to perform tasks that are most important to them.

Kho conceded that no firm conclusions could be drawn from the study as “the patients were not randomly selected, the video game sessions were infrequent and the number of patients was small.” She concluded: “Our next step is to study what physical therapy goals best benefit from video games.”

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