3 Ways to Incorporate New Technology in Occupational Therapy

Written by on January 10, 2013 in Technology - No comments | Print this page


Sgt. Joshua Elliott uses a Primus RS machine during physical therapy.

The therapeutic value of common, everyday activities is enhanced by the use of technology. Some forms of technology are absolutely essential in specific cases, and they have been around for a long time. The wheelchair, cane, captions, brain-teasers and Braille translators are all found in the occupational therapist’s toolbox.

The rapid development of mobile communications and personal computers has introduced many new tools for the innovative therapist. Some of these tools excel at motivating the clients to higher performance levels. Others offer unique methods of ensuring personal safety and prolonging an independent lifestyle. Assistive and augmentative communication technologies have also taken a large leap for the benefit of those with lost speech and/or impaired cognition.

Far from threatening the position of occupational therapists, new technologies give them and their clients the opportunity for greater success. Therapists are still best positioned to choose the correct technological aids and oversee the most beneficial means of implementation.

Games Take on New Meaning

The proliferation of gaming systems has many parents worried. Children are spending more time than ever glued to the television or computer and less time engaging in physical activities. The Nintendo Wii changed the rules somewhat with whole-body interaction, but questions about the quality of indoor versus outdoor play persist.

Regardless of arguments on this front, therapists have found a lot of value in these gaming systems. Occupational therapist Nathan Herz began formally studying the benefits of gaming systems after noting positive results with clients. He used the Wii games to teach knife skills, cooking, fishing and other activities to Parkinson’s patients. This resulted in an increased quality of life with specific reductions in rigidity and depression and an increase in motivation. Other therapists have followed suit in bringing these and other benefits to their clients.

New-Age Robotics

With the advent of Smart homes, software and hardware integration for unique purposes is possible and happening daily. Back in 1991, the first pilot studies were initiated to find possible benefits and drawbacks on the use of robots for re-training muscle coordination following trauma. In 2012, Austerer Higgins Physical Therapy and Wellness joined up with Myomo, Inc. and their newly developed mPower robotic device.

This cutting edge device is the first portable, myoelectric orthosis for the upper limbs. Instead of replacing lost function of a limb, it aids in the return of normal function through a combination of scaffolding and biofeedback. Therapists at the clinic have witnessed stroke survivors re-engage atrophied muscles after years of struggling with traditional therapy. The potential applications extend far beyond stroke survivors for this blend of neuroscience and advanced technology.

Smart Phone to the Future

Whether it’s client safety in the home, emotional and cognitive support or regaining fine motor skills, applications for the Smart phone, tablet, or other mobile device can offer assistance. In fact, so many applications are in use and under development that therapists are unlikely to grasp the range the possibilities in this gift of the communications age. A brief survey should pique the interest of any therapist.

  • Hidden Curriculum for Kids was developed to assist emotionally challenged children learn unwritten social rules.
  • T2 Mood Tracker shows emotional changes over time, which is useful information for therapists and a form of biofeedback for clients.
  • Brain Trainer delivers cognitive games of skill specific to the user’s diagnosis.
  • Dexteria by BinaryLabs is a set of therapeutic hand exercises for children and adults.

The rate of technological progress is now faster than anyone can keep up with. Occupational therapists have no lack of helpful tools to engage clients of any age and any diagnosis.

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This is a guest post.  Jamie Fields is a physical therapist and guest author at Best Therapy Degrees, where he contributed to the guide to the Top 10 Best Online Therapy Degree Programs.


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