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'Virtual' physiotherapist aids arm mobility

Tagged In:  Physiotherapy

Researchers at Imperial College London (ICL) have endorsed a new device which helps those with arm disability use therapeutic video games.

gripAble™ is a low-cost, lightweight electronic handgrip that interacts wirelessly with a standard PC tablet loaded with easy-to-use arm training physiotherapy software. The patient simply squeezes, turns or lifts the handgrip, which vibrates in response to the on-screen movements. Because of the extreme sensitivity of the device, even those with severe arm paralysis can use it.

The ICL study showed that using gripAble increased the proportion of paralysed stroke patients able to direct movements on a tablet screen by 50 per cent in comparison with standard techniques used by physiotherapists. None of the severely disabled patients who took part in the study were able to use conventional computer control methods such as swiping or tapping. However, over half of them were able to use gripAble.

Video gaming has been used by physiotherapists to help improve mobility for many years. As we reported in a previous blog, the phrase 'Wii-habilitation' has been coined because of the frequent use of the Nintendo Wii in helping patients recover from illness and injury.

In 2015 physiotherapists at Jamaica's University of the West Indies tested the use of the Wii in rehabilitation of cardiac patients. Each patient took part in three weekly 40-minute gaming sessions, featuring a range of virtual activities including rhythm boxing, hula hoop, running, stepping and completing an obstacle course. After six weeks all participants had significantly increased the average distance they could walk in six minutes.

In addition to stroke patients and those recovering from limb surgery, virtual video games have been found to aid people who have brain injuries and other conditions which affect their mobility.  Research published in 2011 by the USA's Johns Hopkins University showed that interactive video games appeared to safely enhance physical therapy for patients in intensive care units. "We are always looking for creative ways to improve rehabilitation care for critically ill patients, " said lead researcher Dr Michelle Kho, "And our study suggests that interactive video games may be a helpful addition."

There are over five million people in the UK living with arm disability, caused by a range of neurological and musculoskeletal conditions. Many require expensive long-term care and access to regular physiotherapy can be limited by cost and availability of physiotherapists. Designed to be used independently in hospital or at home, the gripAble device is a cost-effective solution. In 2016 it was a prizewinner in the NHS Innovation Acorn Challenge, which recognises small ideas that have the potential to make a big difference to patient

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