Virtual Reality is in Full Use at this Texas SNF

By: Carmen Vitton

Along with opening a new skilled nursing facility in the community, Advanced Rehabilitation and Healthcare of Bowie, TX, has introduced the region’s first virtual rehabilitation system developed to accommodate the needs of medically complex patients, including aging adults.

Advanced Rehabilitation’s OmniVR™ uses a 3D camera and specialized computer software to track patients’ precise movements under the direction of a licensed physical or occupational therapist or speech-language pathologist, allowing patients to participate in a variety of exercises and activities that are designed to achieve specific functional and cognitive therapy goals in a way that’s often more fun and engaging than traditional exercise.

Capturing the patient’s movements automatically and eliminating the need for hand-held controllers, mats or special platforms, the OmniVR allows the patient to become engaged safely. Computer software creates a real-time interactive environment, providing positive feedback throughout the exercise session for increased patient motivation and repetitions. The OmniVR offers six skilled exercise categories with multiple difficulty levels for balance, gait training, wheelchair mobility, seated exercises and cognitive activities.

Mounting Evidence
An increasing volume of evidence illustrates the value of virtual rehabilitation (VR) in the medical field, suggesting that patients will exercise harder and longer when immersed in a VR environment.

This motivation and encouragement is important for many aging adults who may be fearful of participating in a therapeutic process due to physical limitations. Researchers for WebMD searched three libraries for studies on virtual technologies in stroke patients. Twelve studies were included in the analysis.

Participants in the studies ranged in age from 26 to 88 and focused on patients who had suffered a stroke up to six months before and completed 4-6 weeks of treatment. Researchers found that participants using virtual therapies had 15 percent improvement in motor impairment and 20 percent improvement in motor function in the arm affected by the stroke.

According to Mindy Levin, PhD, professor in the School of Physical and Occupational Therapy at McGill University in Montreal, virtual tools “will help us meet that challenge of delivering more therapy to patients in a friendly way that’s more accessible to people.” The study was published in the Journal of Stroke.

According to an article in the Clinical Journal of Pain, Effectiveness of Virtual Reality-Based Pain Control with Multiple Treatments, virtual reality applications have also been conducive to the reduction of pain. Results provided evidence that VR can function as a strong non-pharmacological pain reduction technique for patients during physical therapy.

According to “Applications of Virtual Reality for Pain Management in Burn Injured Patients,” published by the National Institute of Health, November 2008, “the popular theory is that virtual reality effectively competes for a large fraction of the user’s conscious attention, distracting their focus away from simultaneous input and replacing it with more pleasant sensory input from the virtual experience.”

This article indicates that numerous reports have documented the potential analgesic benefit of VR in medical settings ranging from cancer therapy to dental care to the alleviation of pain and anxiety experienced by burn patients during wound care or other painful procedures.

VR in Practice
The positive interactive feedback provided by the OmniVR throughout a therapy session is perceived to be rewarding to patients versus the “win-lose” approach used in recreational gaming systems often employed in rehab settings.

The OmniVR features a variety of adjustable parameters that enable therapists to individualize the activity to complement the patient’s specific condition and capabilities. The OmniVR’s therapeutic exercise programs target key functional movements such as leaning, knee extension-flexion, reaching, sit-to-stand, squatting, and marching that are required for patients to regain mobility and independence.

Rehab Synergies’ speech therapists working at Advanced Rehabilitation and Healthcare of Bowie now have tools that facilitate the use of memory and cognitive skills to support PT and OT’s attempts to increase coordination and successfully complete program activity goals. Physical therapists are thrilled to administer formalized testing measures using the OmniVR equipment, which “allows us to gather baseline data for the Timed Get Up and Go Test necessary to compare progress throughout the course of treatment,” according to Amber Hammer, OTR. Hammer states that the system’s ability to print preports saves time and makes illustrating progress and measuring outcomes easy.

Patients say that the OmniVR is fun; that they don’t even realize they’re doing therapy. One patient even asked if she could take it to her room so she can “play” in the evenings. Some have reported that they enjoy the social aspect of the program, indicating they like to play volleyball with their friends: “I enjoy watching my friends play and cheering them on while waiting my turn.” One patient commented that the challenge helped her feel stronger and more limber: “I am able to do things for myself that I couldn’t do before, without feeling like I’ve had to work hard to get there.”

Learn more about the OmniVR at

Carmen Vitton is chief operating officer for Rehab Synergies, in partnership with Advanced Healthcare Solutions. Visit