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UNMC studying how video-game therapy helps young people with cerebral palsy

UNMC Munroe-Meyer Institute is using video games as therapy for kids with cerebral palsy.
Published: Aug. 13, 2021 at 11:14 AM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - UNMC is one of the first in the nation to go high-tech for a treatment program for kids diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

CP is a motor disability, and it’s treated with intense physical therapy. Usually kids don’t like it.

But that’s not the case at UNMC’s Munroe-Meyer Institute.

A total of eight kids attended Habit VR Camp, a two-week video-game camp at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

At the camp, there’s more going on than meets the eye.

“They come in here, they sit down, and they put the headsets on, and they do right to work.”

Cameron Jenkins, 8, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at just a year old.

“He had issues with his left hand since he was an infant,” his mom, Amanda, said. “It was all a shock because he was so young when he was diagnosed.”

Cameron’s therapy typically involves basic, simple, routine tasks.

“He didn’t really like it as a baby. He was always a little frustrated, but it just got a little tedious and boring,” Amanda said.

Enter Dr. James Gehringer, research assistant professor at UNMC-MMI. His department teamed up with the physical and occupational therapy to take habit camp to a whole new level.

“For example, there was a game where they took a tissue out of a paper towel tube, and they would just try to do that over and over again,” he said.

So they turned it into something much more fun.

“We made a game where you’re firing rockets at robots and you’re taking a rocket and pulling a plunger out of the back or you can push it in,” Dr. Gehringer said.

The kids think they’re playing, but they’re actually working hard.

“What we end up seeing is these kids are just drenched in sweat they’ve been working their behinds off because they’re not even thinking about the work,” Dr. Gehringer said.

And they work together, earning points that go toward a reward.

“Some extra time on the splash pad tomorrow.”

Habit VR Camp has made Cameron happy about going to therapy for once, Amanda said.

“He’s getting the help that he needs he’s getting better with the use of his hand and social skills,” she said.

The game-changing therapy is helping those kids win.

“Usually kids — that’s how they would live the rest of their lives. But now there’s so much out there that’s helping them lead more — better — lives, more normal lives.”

Following the session, Munroe-Meyer researchers will conduct a post-test to measure improvements the kids made. The hope is that if the VR therapy proves successful, it can be adapted into schools or even home therapy.

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