When Paul Lajoie, 76, came to the Banner Boswell Rehabilitation Center two weeks ago, he could not walk. In fact, he could not so much as sit up straight for any length of time. The staff members were having to use a two-person sliding board to transfer him around.
“My knees were totally limp,” he said. “My arms were OK, but my legs, they were gonzo. I had tingling in my fingers and toes. It was bad.”
Lajoie was afflicted with Guillain-Barré syndrome, which came after a case of pneumonia. Guillain-Barré attacks the body’s immune system and can cause symptoms ranging from mild tingling sensations to full-blown paralysis, which is what it did to Lajoie.
As part of his rehabilitation, his therapist Rachel Schider elected to use a popular video gaming system and fitness game. Lajoie would be strapped into a partial weightbearing device called a LiteGait to keep him stable and then make his way onto a treadmill. He would watch the television in front of him and run the jogging program. The remote would be kept on Lajoie’s hip and measure his speed, which would be translated to his in-game avatar. So while in reality he is strapped into a harness on a treadmill, in the game he is running through a park on a sunny day.
“The game gets your mind off the exercise, and it’s fun,” said Jennifer Anderson, who was filling in Saturday for Schider, Lajoie’s regular physical therapist. “But most importantly, it gives the patient immediate visual feedback, which is a big part of getting those skills back. Having that visual element allows them to gauge their movements.”
Lajoie said his therapy has kept him busy over the past two weeks.
“I’ve been doing a lot of walking, trying to exercise, trying to get my muscles and nerves to cooperate,” he said. “The game was totally different. I wasn’t familiar with it at all before, but I guess it really helped.”
The video game system has been helpful as a therapy tool almost since its release in 2006. At Banner’s rehab center, many of the patients are able to take advantage.
“We use the balance board to help with balance, and even the bowling, tennis and golf games help hone skills such as hand-eye coordination, as well as balance,” said Dr. Natalya Faynboym, medical director of the BRC. “Rehabilitation can be hard work, but it pays off in getting patients back to their normal activities of living.”
And with the game, Anderson said often the work does not seem so hard.
“Many times the patient does not even really know what we are working on,” she said. “We might be focusing on their strength or balance, but to them they are just playing a game.”
Lajoie will be going home in just a few days, something he cannot wait to do.
“I’ll be going home in a hell of a lot better shape than when I got here,” he said. “And I see something like a normal future ahead for me.”
Jeff Dempsey may be reached at 623-876-2531 or firstname.lastname@example.org.