Interactive Video Games Enhance Physical Therapy For ICU Patients

Interactive video games have long been known to help stroke patients in improving their motor functions. A recent study suggests that interactive video games may also enhance physical therapy in ICU patients.

In a report published in the Journal of Critical Care, the researchers studied the feasibility of using video games to complement physical therapy in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

“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, P.T., Ph.D, assistant professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Johns Hopkins. “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.”

For the trial, 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. These patients are mostly males aged 32 to 64 years. Generally, the patients were admitted to the ICU due to health issues such as respiratory failure, sepsis (inflammation throughout the body), and cardiovascular problems.

All of these patients participated in 42 therapy sessions using video game consoles such as Nintendo Wii and Wii Fit. These 22 patients completed this activity in nearly half of the 20 minutes session and directly supervised by a physical therapist.

Interactive video games that are mostly played by the patients include bowling, boxing, and use of the balance board. The selection of this kinds of video game are to improve patients’ stamina and balance.

“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 is ideal for severely deconditioned patients and very low-cost compared to most medical 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.

“Our study had limitations because the patients were not randomly selected, video game therapy is rare and the number of patients was small,” Kho noted. “Our next step is to study what physical therapy goals best benefit from video games,” said Needham as quoted from epharmapedia.

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