A week after his double knee replacement surgery, John Cain was walking on a high-tech treadmill that made him feel lighter than air. With bandaged knees and thick, warm socks, the 65-year-old strode slowly but steadily on the machine known as the AlterG, an anti-gravity treadmill.
Cameras captured his gait and projected it on the screen in front of him. He immediately corrected his stride in response. “I’m all for anything that helps make you better,” said Cain, a patient at Accel Rehabilitation Hospital in Plano, Texas.
The hospital, which regularly uses AlterG and other rehab technologies in its gym, is one of many StoneGate Senior Living supported communities. StoneGate strives to lead the way in innovative technologies that enable patients to regain mobility, develop strength and fitness, and increase their range of motion.
In addition to its rehabilitation hospitals, StoneGate provides support services in all areas of senior housing and long-term care, including skilled nursing, assisted living and memory care in Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas.
“The technology (for rehabilitation) is constantly improving,” said Chelsea Fox, Accel’s Chief Therapy Officer. “It gets better and better as far as meeting the patient’s individual needs.” Fox said she’s seeing more patients wearing cardiac monitors and some, who suffer from sleep apnea, have replaced their bulky CPAP masks and machines with a tiny implant that keeps their airways from being obstructed. A small, hand-held remote turns the implant off and on.
Fueled by research, the technology impacting rehabilitation is wide-ranging, from mobile health apps and virtual reality training to robotics and assistive devices.
There is a new, wearable exoskeleton for the ankle that can help aging adults with mobility issues remain active while the device is discretely hidden beneath clothing. And, beyond smartphone apps to manage diabetes and other diseases, “smart bandages” are being developed that deliver medicine to wounds while monitoring vital signs in the healing process.
“We use different tools for different patients, based on their needs,” said Natalie Hooper, Chief Operating Officer for Rehab Pro, which works in partnership with Accelerated Care Plus, a technology company that focuses on rehabilitation devices. “So, it’s always beneficial for us to try to stay attuned to what is out there and available to help us.”
The following are just a few cutting-edge and interactive technologies Rehab Pro uses for senior care at various StoneGate supported communities:
- SYNCHRONY — It’s a biofeedback machine that speech therapists use to enhance a patient’s swallowing ability. Swallowing can sometimes be impaired following a stroke, brain injury, multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease. Feedback from electrodes placed on the neck can help a patient learn how to swallow normally again.
- OMNI VR — The Omniverse VR is similar in some ways to a Wii entertainment system but it’s used for rehabilitation. When patients move so does their avatar on the big screen. The virtual realities created – complete with obstacles one must navigate — are more exciting and beneficial than simply walking in a straight line down a hospital hallway. The Omni VR can improve balance, shoulder and leg strength and provide a positive distraction when bending your aching knee.
- JINTRONIX — A software company called Jintronix uses video games that can help people in nursing homes and rehab centers heal. Xbox Kinect sensors detect motion so that patients can play these games without a controller. Jintronix gathers real-time data and generates objective measures that let patients know how they’re progressing. “It’s fun for the patients,” Hooper said. “They’re playing games but they’re pushing themselves to improve their physical performance.”
- E-STIM MACHINE / ULTRASOUND — Although electrical stimulation and ultrasounds have been around for years, they are now used in combination to treat everything from muscle spasms to chronic musculoskeletal pain found in such injuries as tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome and degenerative disc disease.
- SHORT WAVE DIATHERMY — To fight inflammation and pain, therapists at rehabilitation centers sometimes use short wave diathermy, which converts energy to deep heat by using electromagnetic radio waves. It also increases circulation and blood flow and relieves muscle spasms. “These modalities allow technology to assist us in our treatments in ways that we just can’t do with our hands,” Hooper said.
- AlterG – An anti-gravity treadmill developed for NASA, it gently lifts the user off the treadmill with air pressure. It’s used to train athletes and help patients move without pain.
“When it comes to computer things, my kids think I was brought up in a cave,” said Cain. “Younger people, they love this newer technology stuff. They grew up with it.”
But after he saw how using the AlterG helped his son quickly recover from a recent back surgery, Cain decided to give it a try.
The greatest challenge for Cain, who “tore up” his right knee 45 years ago while playing football at the University of Florida, was getting into the AlterG from his rolling walker. But once he got zipped in, the plastic chamber around his waist inflated with pressurized air and Cain was motivated to keep walking because he finally could, with ease.
“Patients think it’s pretty cool,” Fox said. “Astronauts and elite athletes use this and I’m getting to do it too.”