J. Westhafer, S. Henry, S. Phillips, N. Schibig, H. Tolstedt and C. Papadopoulos

Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, WA

Assessment is a vital component of physical rehabilitation. Assessments are costly for measures of function and impairment, because of limitations in time and resources for outpatient rehabilitation clinics. Some novel tools implementing technology, specifically human computer/sensor interaction are becoming a reality. However, more research is needed to analyze whether the rising popularity of technological tools in the therapeutic process have a valid and reliable basis. PURPOSE: To assess functionality in geriatric patients through balance and walking tests using a virtual reality assessment tool. METHODS: Older adults admitted in a Medicare rehabilitation unit performed a walking test and a functional reach test. Functional reach in past research has been indicative of levels of activities of daily living and fall risk. The walking test consisted of walking in place for a distance equivalent to 200 steps with various obstacles. The participants were instructed to complete the test as fast as possible. Each participant completed a baseline test and a pre-discharge assessment. In addition, participants completed a functional reach test assessed by a trained technician and a functional reach test measured using the virtual reality infrared camera and its associated software. Participants were instructed to reach as far as they possibly could without taking a step. A meter stick was used for the traditional assessment. Paired t-test was used to assess difference between baseline and pre-discharge for the walking test. Furthermore, an independent t-test was used to determine difference between the scores from the functional reach test assessed by a technician and the virtual reality tool. RESULTS: Four participants completed both walking tests. At baseline, average time to complete the test was 177.5 ± 44.8 sec. At pre-discharge, time to complete was not significantly faster compared to baseline. Furthermore, participants' speed and step rate was higher at pre-discharge compared to baseline, but was not significantly different. The average functional reach as assessed by trained technician was 22.7 ± 7.8 cm. The average functional reach as assessed by the computer was 14.9 ± 4.8 cm. There was a significant difference in functional reach score between the traditional method and the computerized. CONCLUSION: These results indicate that the virtual reality tool shows improvements in walking ability, but it does not provide accurate results for the functional reach test. This type of technology is promising and can be used more to assess participants before starting a physical and occupational therapy rehabilitation program.

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