JONESBORO — Senior residents at the St. Bernards Villa have started participating in a pilot physical therapy program which uses a special virtual reality (VR) system built, in part, with senior care facilities in mind, by Neuro Rehab VR.
According to a press release, St. Bernards has begun using a platform called Neuro Rehab VR, which was formatted to help patients who have experienced strokes, partial paralysis, muscle weakness, Parkinson’s Disease and sports injuries.
Director of Business Development for Rehabilitation Services for St. Bernards Andy Shatley, who is the mastermind behind bringing this new program and is a St. Bernards physical therapist himself, said on Thursday that the Villa is just their Beta site at the moment and they hope to incorporate the program into more sites in the upcoming months.
“VR is part of the future,” Shatley said, “The application of VR, although new to the medical world will be able to provide us with opportunities that we have never had in the realm of traditional therapy. It is going to be a game changer.”
“It is a thing that we have only dreamed about,” he said, noting conversations between himself and St. Bernards Physical Therapist and Geriatric Certified Specialist Jason Edwards, who is heading the new program at the Villa.
He said that Neuro Rehab VR has taken a huge step into bringing this technology to the world and making it a reality, plus it is safe and effective.
“We are very excited to have this available to us,” he said.
Shatley also said that to his understanding Edwards and his assistant are the first FDA-certified virtual-reality certified physical therapists in Arkansas and in the country.
Media Relations Manager Mitchell Nail said on Thursday that the program has already been FDA approved and could be covered by insurance, which makes its availability easier for patients.
Nail said that he believes that St. Bernards is on the cutting-edge of physical therapy with innovative programs like the new VR program and programs like the Rock Steady Boxing.
“VR is growing, and the sky is the limit,” Nail said.
Edwards said on Thursday that they have been using this new program for about eight weeks and that one of the reasons they have enjoyed it so much is because it is very engaging for the patients.
“The patients really enjoy the VR experience,” Edwards said, noting that it helps with a variety of issues including balance, coordination and over all mobility.
He said that they are using it to treat several disorders from inner-ear and balance disorders to muscle weakness and mobility.
“It helps to get a lot of our patients to be able to get into positions that they are not used to being in anymore,” he said.
Edwards recalled two success stories from patients in just the last two weeks, one of which was a woman with Parkinson’s, who had a problem with getting down on the floor and then back up again.
“She said that she felt like the reason that she was able to do it was because she really didn’t have to think about it,” he said, noting that the program has been well received by the Villa residents and is safe when used under the guidance of trained therapists.
“VR technology has advanced rapidly within the last five to 10 years, and research indicates its use improves therapy outcomes for seniors,” Edwards said. “We’ve also seen an improvement in patient compliance because they get a better therapy experience.”
“It’s very stimulating and very safe, so it allows the patients to reach their goals, which allows us to reach our goals for them as well,” he said.
He said that he believes that there is so much more that can be achieved in areas such as chronic pain because it creates a simulated, real world environment that tricks the brain into eliciting natural physical movement with proper control and cadence, which essentially allows the patient to do things that they did not believe they could do before.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Edwards said. “We can use VR in the future of hospital care.”
Edwards said that he and his colleagues are planning to expand VR physical therapy services to more populations in the weeks ahead.
“This new service holds great promise for rehabilitating injured athletes or any person recovering from joint injuries or surgeries, too,” he said. “No matter a person’s age or background, physical therapy will always challenge patients. We hope to empower them to meet those challenges.”
St. Bernards Director of Senior Services Brian Rega said in the press release that the program provides residents with an opportunity to experience rehabilitation services without traveling to a provider.
“We’re always looking to improve what we offer in our assisted living facilities,” Rega said. “It’s not enough that we provide residents with a place to stay. We want to keep them living healthy and active lives.”
“As background, the FDA-registered Neuro Rehab VR helps patients with their physical and occupational therapies, using a turn-key, immersive VR therapy solution and data analytics to track progress,” according to the release and customers include large hospitals such as Cedars Sinai, Children’s Health and the VA.
The XR Therapy System is the company’s flagship product, consisting of a VR headset with controllers and a tablet for clinician control and patient management.
Shatley said that he had seen the technology at a conference in San Antonio, Texas, noting the reason they chose Neuro Rehab VR was because they were a gaming company that had partnered with a rehabilitation company to create the innovative software. He pointed out that there is lot of innovation happening in the South right now and St. Bernards is proud to be part of that.