A child holds a small barbell with colored balls on its ends to control a spaceship on a computer screen, moving it left to right to avoid obstacles. But there’s more to this game than it seems – the angles of the child’s wrist movements are being tracked via a webcam as part of their physical therapy.
The game, from Timocco, an Israeli company with operations in Akron, Ohio, is designed to motivate children who have cerebral palsy, or other motor and cognitive disabilities, practice complex hand and wrist movements through play. It is one of four supination/pronation games the company is developing, adding to its lineup of more than 50 therapeutic games it already offers online.
For more than two years, the company has been working with a Brown University professor on the new technology for games that focus specifically on supination and pronation.
“We want to make physical therapy fun and motivating,” Eran Arden, Timocco’s CEO, said in a recent interview. “The patient is playing a game but is realizing the goals the therapist has written for him.”
The technology has been tested at Meeting Street, which works with more than 4,000 children annually and offers early intervention and early Head Start and other services. Meeting Street, in Providence, has been helping Timocco test its technology for nearly two years, according to Meeting Street President John M. Kelly.
“We’re really pleased with it. We’re always looking for innovative and new tools because what works with one kid might not work with another,” Kelly said.
The technology is evolving. Meeting Street’s therapists regularly give feedback to the Timocco team to explain what’s working and what’s not. Some children may use the game several times a week, while others may use it less.
A child’s movements are tracked via a webcam set up on a computer, which records them in the software’s system, showing progress and the angles of the wrist movements, Arden said.
Arden explained that he connected with J.J. “Trey” Crisco, professor of orthopedics at Brown University and head of the bioengineering laboratory affiliated with the university and Rhode Island Hospital, which was already working on a motivational game featuring race cars to encourage supination and pronation. The collaboration has allowed the company to move the supination/pronation platform forward faster.
Thanks to an $800,000 grant from the U.S.-Israel Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation, Timocco was able to pursue its technology in the U.S. Four years ago, Timocco launched its therapeutic-gaming platform in Israel and Europe; it’s been available in the U.S. for two years.
Arden expects the new supination/pronation platform to be ready midyear, and plans to seek U.S. Department of Agriculture approval. The overall investment in the platform development is estimated at more than $2 million, and is partially supported by the BIRD grant allowing Hasbro Children’s Hospital, Brown University and Meeting Street to work together to develop and research Timocco’s new technology.
Arden envisions the games being used in schools, hospitals, rehabilitation centers and nursing homes. Arden said stroke patients could play the games as part of their physical therapy.
Kelly says the games have different levels of sophistication. Some are simple, such as counting balloons but the game requires the child to move their hands to count them, he explained. In other games, a child uses his or her hand as the computer mouse. The games help children who may favor one hand, he said, as they encourage use of both hands.
“Kids love technology … they’re having fun achieving educational goals as well as therapeutic goals,” Kelly said.
“We looked at it as a pioneering project that we wanted to get behind,” Kelly said, adding Meeting Street families also were interested in trying the new technology.
While the platform can be used for all ages, it is being geared toward younger children – elementary age and younger through middle school. Kelly said up to 50 children have used the system, and Meeting Street’s clinicians have seen improvement among the users.
Emily B. Lennon, an occupational therapist at Meeting Street, said the therapists like using the games, and children enjoy them. Children with autism, Down syndrome and with strength and coordination issues have used the games, she said.
In addition to Meeting Street, the games are also being used at Hasbro Children’s Rehabilitation Center and the Trudeau Center, Crisco said.
Crisco said physical therapy is a “critical part of addressing upper extremity impairments” but is typically “boring” and limited to sessions at a clinic. Gaming is a “great approach to providing more therapy,” he said, adding it motivates therapy through play.
“They don’t know it’s exercise. That’s the key,” Crisco said. •