For the 9 million Americans who must do physical therapy every year, the exercises can be grueling and boring. A new virtual reality game, Kinect-o-Therapy, wants to make those endless repetitions more engaging for patients, according to a recent article from IIEE’s The Institute. The game was developed by Yash Soni, Anil Roy, and Sonali Dubey, who collaborated with rehabilitation experts and hospitals in India.
The game uses motion-sensing technology from the Microsoft Kinect game console to help people with chronic muscle ailments and cerebral palsy. Here’s how it works: Therapists choose the exercise routines that meet their patients’ needs on the Kinect game console, which is connected to a TV or a computer. To browse and choose from the list of preselected exercise options, patients wave their hands and make a tapping gesture. Currently there are five sets of exercises targeting different parts of the body.
Before each exercise, an animated segment shows the patient how to do each exercise. Real-time motion displays what the movements look like onscreen. Patients can check out their onscreen avatars to make sure they’re doing the movements correctly. They’ll also receive audio feedback. A soothing, pleasant melody plays when the exercise is performed correctly, and a buzzer sounds when it’s not.
The game uploads data about each patient’s performance to their computers and is made available to doctors through the system’s website, so they can analyze how patients are doing.
Games like Kinect-o-Therapy address the most challenging aspect of physical therapy: helping patients find the motivation to keep on doing it. When physical therapy becomes less about how many repetitions must be done, and more about popping enough balloons to move ahead to the next level, more patients are likely to participate and stick with the program.
That’s what the game’s creators are hoping will happen, and they’re making their software open source so that future developers can create additional exercise routines and avatars. They also hope to serve the millions of patients who cannot afford physical therapy, do not have access to it, or for whom transportation is an issue. Currently the price of each system is $187.
As healthcare budgets get cut, and reimbursement rates and visits approved for physical therapy services get capped or decreased, games like Kinect-o-Therapy may allow patients to keep moving, and stay motivated, without having to leave home.