Newport Hospital using virtual reality tech for rehab patients

NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) — New virtual reality technology is helping some patients of the Vanderbilt Rehabilitation Center progress faster than with traditional methods, according to medical professionals.

The center inside Newport Hospital acquired virtual reality-based platforms — GaitBetter and REAL y-Series — within the past year.

The GaitBetter is a virtual reality walking platform. Using a harness system and treadmill, it simulates real-world obstacles, and doctors believe it can significantly improve dynamic balance, endurance and cognitive functioning.

Dr. Mustapha Kemal, the rehabilitation center’s medical director, tells 12 News that most importantly, the device gives instant feedback. He said the GaitBetter asks the patient to do a certain activity, including walking around various obstacles.

“This technology, it actually takes them and puts them in their own environment, which the patients appreciate,” Kemal said. “They tend to know what their deficits are and they have the ability then to make adjustments for themselves, and the therapists together can find new ways for the patients to cope with their environment and their disability.”

In addition to the patient wearing a safety harness, sensors are strapped around their feet to calibrate movement. A camera tracks that movement, and animated shoes are projected on to a screen in front of them.

“So, all of that dual tasking is really good for brain recovery and falls,” physical therapist Jenny Volpe explained.

Kemal said in one instance with a fall patient who had to get hip surgery, using the GaitBetter for rehab showed instant progress.

Within a few days of using the technology, Kemal said the patient transitioned to a walker and was later able to go home, rather than to another facility.

“Not only does it help the patient progress, but progress quicker. We’re hoping that this did have an impact on the length of stay,” Kemal said.

The rehabilitation center also has a virtual reality helmet, called the “REAL y-series.” The technology involves wearing sensors around their body to track head, hand, arm and body movements.

Once they put the helmet on, Cassie Bardi, a speech language pathologist, said the patient can be transported to a lake house, a restaurant or garden and asked to do a variety of tasks.

Bardi said the games can be more exciting for the patient rather than traditional rehabilitation involving weights.

“You’re working things in a more functional way that’s so much more interactive, colorful,” Bardi said. “You take this headset gear off and you forget you’re in this gym. It takes you to an entirely different world.”

Lifespan said the Vanderbilt Rehabilitation Center is currently the only inpatient facility in the state to have both the GaitBetter and REAL y-series.

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