Virtual reality games a vital role in rehabilitation at Rancho

DOWNEY - Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center clinicians are using virtual reality to reinvent the art and science of rehabilitation medicine at the world-renowned hospital."By having patients play virtual reality games, we are challenging and motivating them in unprecedented ways during their physical rehabilitation," says Bobbi Jean Tanberg, BS, COTA/L, ATP, program manager for a visionary Rancho team that is using many new methods to revolutionize rehabilitation. "The concept is simple…for our patients to have the best possible recovery, they need the most intense rehabilitation." By allowing therapists to personalize virtual reality treatment based on each patient's interests, age and function level, Rancho has opened a new therapeutic world where patients happily engage in intense therapy for much longer periods than they would normally tolerate conventional therapies. They are getting better while they play. "Because the virtual reality experiences have been specially tailored to provide maximum therapeutic benefit, the gains the patients are capable of making are simply amazing," says Rancho Chief Medical Officer Mindy Aisen, MD. "Based on our proven results, Rancho has made one of the largest commitments to virtual reality technology of any hospital in the nation." Rancho is also pioneering a new standard for rehabilitation intensity. "We believe our patients will have better clinical outcomes if they receive not just the traditional two or three hours of therapy a day, but at least four or five hours daily," Rancho Chief Executive Officer Jorge Orozco explains. "The more therapy they get in the shortest time period, the better their clinical outcomes will be." Rancho created an easy-to-use Virtual Reality Center for therapy by installing commercially available gaming systems such as Nintendo Wii, PlayStation EyeToy and Xbox Kinect. "These gaming systems have been modified by faculty at USC's Viterbi School of Engineering to meet the special needs of our patients," says Dr. Aisen. "These virtual reality systems motivate people to properly do the movements necessary to recover as much ability as possible." Clinical leadership is nothing new for Rancho. The hospital invented the framework of modern-day rehabilitation medicine in the 1960s and 1970s. Now Rancho is again leading the way. "Rancho's Occupational, Physical and Recreation therapists are maximizing patient participation through the use of this exciting new capability, both in the hospital and in patients' homes," Bobbi Jean says. The patients who are currently using the Virtual Reality Center are from Rancho's Unified Stroke Service, ranging in age from 35 to 76 years old. "The virtual reality platforms allow patients to work on thinking skills such as making choices and following directions," says Rancho Recreation Therapist Tim Taylor. "They work on balance while standing either on their own, with a front-wheeled walker, using a standing frame or while seated in their wheelchair. Patients work on motor skills with reaching and moving forward, backwards and side to side." They also learn to incorporate the side of their body most affected by their stroke or other conditions. "Patients often forget they are playing a game, because they see an avatar or even an image of themselves that represents them in the virtual reality experience," Dr. Aisen says. "Many people have experienced this feeling of being 'in the game' when they play video games in an arcade or on a computer or mobile device. Now we are introducing this concept to the therapeutic environment." Commercially available gaming systems make it possible for patients and families to continue to use this technology for further recovery in their home environment. "Family members also learn how they can include their loved one who is returning home from the hospital after rehabilitation in meaningful and fun activities at home," Bobbi Jean says. They are in essence continuing their rehabilitation program at home, while involving their family and having fun while doing it." The Rancho CEO says this is just the beginning of Rancho's rehabilitation revolution. "This is one of many exciting new therapeutic approaches we're pioneering," Jorge says. "We are focused on creating better patient outcomes and a better patient experience as we invent the future of rehabilitation right here in Downey. Because at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, the horizons are virtually unlimited." For more information, contact the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation at (562) 401-7053 or visit

********** Published: March 24, 2011 - Volume 9 - Issue 49