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Physical Therapy Morphs from Boring into Fun Using Video Game Technology at a Local Nursing Home

By Lynne Kornecki

Waving his hands high in the air and flexing his body from side-to-side, 24 year old Charles Brown, the youngest resident at Southpoint Nursing & Rehabilitation Center on Chicago's Southside, eagerly plays a video game while his physical therapist stands safely next to him gripping a special belt looped around Brown's midsection for extra support. Brown can choose from several different video games at the facility depending on his therapy goals that day. From virtual ping-pong to breaking off cubes from a rotating Rubik's cube to driving a jet ski through obstacles bobbing in the colorful cartoon Caribbean Sea, Brown's world suddenly expands well beyond his wheelchair. Such active play strengthens his body and engages his youthful spirit.

"The games are cool, and some are really hard for me, especially when trying to use my full range of motion like when I'm driving the jet ski," Brown said. "It makes therapy time more fun, and I like that I can choose from different kinds of games since some tire me out more than others."

At a time when medical costs are skyrocketing, Southpoint Nursing and Rehabilitation Center located at 1010 W. 95th Street inexpensively re-purposed an existing game system to benefit all their rehab patients. By using a popular video game system connected to a 60-inch wall-mounted flat screen TV in the therapy gym, Southpoint patients of all ages can choose a therapist-approved game for all or part of their therapy session. Instead of using a hand-controlled device to operate the game, they use their own hands or entire body while standing with a therapist's assistance or seated – even in a wheelchair. A camera connected to the game unit projects the patient's movements into the game and scoring takes place normally.

"The virtual therapy unit we installed has been a big hit, especially with our younger patients," explained John Stare, the facility's administrator who hatched this innovative new use with the help of his nineteen-year-old son. "Participating in therapy now is far more interesting to patients as they become engaged in the game and forget that it's making them stronger. We've seen patients of all ages react very positively to it."

Before launching the virtual therapy program this spring, Southpoint therapists only employed traditional therapy exercises that can seem repetitious and dull. Although they still use these standard methods, the virtual therapy option has expanded their choices for engaging the brain and improving the physical functionality of their patients. Therapy program manager, Antonio Andere, purchases video games by selecting those that can be operated through body movements rather than hand-held controls. Hand controls, according to Andere, pose a problem because of the grip strength needed or challenges with fine motor skills. "Using existing game technology expands our options," Andere noted. "In the gym, we can use the games briefly as a warm-up, or make it more challenging by adding weights to their arms or legs. It's a new way for them to increase their range of motion, along with improving strength, activity tolerance, and endurance. Not only do these games help them physically, but they also help cognitively."

Virtual therapy is an appropriate choice for patients recovering from joint surgeries, such as hip and knee, or for individuals with cardiovascular or lung disease.

"Like anyone who is competitively hooked on playing video games and achieving increasingly better scores, we track our patients' scores in their progress notes," Andere said. "Those scores can help all of us gauge how their endurance is increasing and provides a baseline for patients to exceed."

Virtual therapy is definitely more than fun and games at Southpoint – it's offered a whole new way to think about rehab.

"It's nice to see our patients more engaged in their therapy sessions now because it does seem more like fun than work, and it even offers a chance for patients to be competitive with one another," Andere noted.



SOUTHPOINT ADMINISTRATOR, JOHN STARE, FEATURED ON PERRI SMALL'S WVON 1690 AM RADIO SHOW

Southpoint administrator, John Stare, had an exciting opportunity recently to discuss what makes Southpoint different from other skilled care facilities on Perri Small's popular weekday WVON 1690 AM radio program.

Southpoint, the ONLY skilled care facility in Chicago Ward 21, provides a host of nursing and rehabilitative services to this large Southside community with an approximate population of 52,000 residents. Southpoint's clinical services include long-term skilled nursing for such conditions as cardiac and respiratory illness, spinal cord injuries, vascular conditions, wounds and other chronic medical problems. Short-term rehabilitative care includes physical, occupational, and speech therapies with an individualized care plan designed to restore a patient's optimal function.

John noted that the average age of a Southpoint resident is 62, and that younger residents live with their own age group.

Additionally, family members can reside together at Southpoint which is a common scenario for elderly siblings wishing to remain close.

Listeners were invited to call in with their questions and John invited anyone who had a loved one needing skilled nursing care to stop by Southpoint for a tour and see firsthand what a welcoming and homelike building it is.

CLICK THE BUTTON BELOW TO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW


Please take a few minutes and listen to what John and Perri discuss about Southpoint, its NUSTART back-to-home-faster program, and long-term care, in general.


MEET THE ADMINISTRATOR, John Stare


At any given time of the day, chances are there's a line of people waiting outside John's office to chat. Whether residents, families, patients or staff members - he thrives on maintaining an Open Door policy for everyone.

"This job is definitely not boring," John says with a smile. "I enjoy the urban setting of our building along with wearing many hats. Every day is different!"

As John looks back over his career, it seems he has always been drawn to the healthcare setting. And, he was probably somewhat influenced by his mother who started working in senior services while he was still in high school.

"I've always been interested in business, healthcare, social services, payroll and marketing," he notes. "And the best part about this job is that it rolls all of those together. I'd be bored if I were locked into just one thing each day!"

His previous positions have included working in social services and activities then working his way up to assistant administrator, and finally administrator five years later. His jobs have been located in both suburban settings and urban, but he enjoys the city best. He resides in Hoffman Estates with his wife of 20 years, Alison, and a cat named, Purry. They have one son who is studying pharmacy at the University of Kentucky. When he's not at home or at work, you will find him on the "links" enjoying golf with his family during good weather.