New research published online in the Journal of Critical Care from Johns Hopkins researchers claims that video games are a good supplement to traditional physical therapy for patients in intensive care units (ICU).
"Patients admitted to our medical intensive care unit are very sick and, despite early physical therapy, still experience problems with muscle weakness, balance and coordination as they recover,” says study lead 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 may be a helpful addition."
Johns Hopkins researchers selected 22 critically ill adult patients to use video games over a one-year period as part of routine physical therapy. These patients were also part of a group of 410 patients who received standard early physical therapy in the medical ICU during the same time frame from Hopkins’ physical therapists. The patients in the study were mostly males 32 – 64 years-old and were admitted to the medical ICU due to such health problems as respiratory failure, sepsis, and cardiovascular issues.
Over the one-year period, the 22 patients participated in 42 physical therapy sessions using Wii Fit and Wii Sports. Almost half of the 20-minute sessions included patients who were mechanically ventilated. Participants played boxing, bowling and games that made use of the balance board. The physical therapists chose the activities primarily 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 supervised by experienced ICU physical therapists, patients enjoyed the challenge of the video games and welcomed the change from their physical therapy routines," says senior author, 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 activities were short in duration because the timing was ideal for severely deconditioned patients, and cost less than most ICU medical equipment. As an addition to regular physical therapy, the video games helped boost patients’ interest in therapy and motivation to do more of it. While the results were good, researchers cautioned that even more research is needed to determine whether the video games improve patients’ abilities to do the tasks that are the most important to them.
"Our study had limitations because the patients were not randomly selected, the video game sessions were infrequent and the number of patients was small," Kho noted. "Our next step is to study what physical therapy goals best benefit from video games."
You can learn more about John Hopkins research at www.hopkinsmedicine.org.
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