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Gaming as a Physical and Occupational Therapy Tool

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One of the biggest challenges of physical and occupational therapists is keeping their patients motivated and stimulated by their therapy exercises and tasks. It can be difficult to help patients, especially younger ones, stay on track and give everything that they can in order to make progress toward their therapy goals. In recent years, many therapists have discovered that video games can hold the key to therapy progress in some patients.

While it may sound surprising to some, there are video games that focus on the fine motor skills that are often treated through occupational therapy and, with the use of cameras, sensors, and other technology, gross motor skills that are the target of physical therapy work. That’s right – your screen time may be good for more than rotting your brain, no matter what your mother told you.

While this doesn’t mean you should install an Xbox in the office and skip traditional therapy tactics so you can buddy up with your patient or student to play your favorite first-person shooter, it does mean that there is a wide range of gaming options that just might make appointments a little more fun for both of you.

Motion-sensitive and motion-detecting video game systems like the Wii and Kinect are a fantastic tool that can help physical therapy patients with all sorts of treatment plans. The natural movements of bowling, tennis, boxing, and other video games that allow you to perform the actual physical motion of a game or activity without the weight or physical jarring of participation can be a great build-up to help athletes and other patients, alike. They’ll work just a little bit harder to try to beat their last score and last a little longer to play one more round.

There are several games being developed that are made specifically for occupational therapy, many of which were created to help stroke and brain injury patients recuperate and begin to return to their former quality of life. These games help them to practice basic movements, pairing them with memory and thinking skills, for a multi-faceted approach to therapy. As virtual reality continues to develop and progress, these games are becoming more complex. Tracking systems are being developed that may allow users to practice at home while the system transmits data and progress to their therapy team in the office.

While often existing video games that are on the market can be a bit difficult for those who have intense physical and occupational therapy needs, these virtual reality games can be a fun way for many to simply get a little additional physical movement and activity. App-based games like Pokemon Go have helped some children with autism and social issues work through their aversion to certain locations and situations, simply because they might be able to find a new character.

There have been years of research and there is much more that needs to be determined about how video games can work best for physical and occupational therapists in their sessions with patients and students. In the meantime, why not give gaming a try with some of your patients and be on the lookout for the next innovations in the field.

Contributor Lesley Slaughter

Lesley is currently a vice president with Soliant and oversees the schools' division. Her 14 years of staffing experience has helped grow our schools' therapy division at Soliant from 3 recruiters to over 100. Lesley is skilled in permanent placement, technical recruiting, and staffing services within public and private schools. She has worked with school districts and school professionals across the country, supporting special education, speech therapy, school psychology, and much more. She’s originally from Northwest Georgia, holds a Bachelor of Art’s in Broadcasting from Georgia Southern University, and loves spending time with her husband and 2 daughters. Make sure to check out the rest of her blogs on working in schools.