Families use virtual gaming to connect with relatives isolated in care facilities

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ByDavid Louie KGO logo
Tuesday, November 3, 2020
Care facilities use virtual gaming to help elderly in isolation
As patients at care facilities are dealing with prolonged social isolation during the coronavirus pandemic, caregivers are turning to online games, like virtual Bingo, to help keep the elderly active and connected to their families.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Health is an important aspect of Building a Better Bay Area.

As patients at care facilities are dealing with prolonged social isolation with visits from families curtailed or not allowed, caregivers are turning to multi-player skill games to improve patient outcomes.

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Bingo has always been a popular way to engage patients in care facilities to use their minds, hands and arms. COVID-19 has not only stopped that, but also visits from loved ones.

"If we don't have friends and peers to work with, then you know, then we unfortunately don't have the motivation to practice and to live longer," said Eran Arden, CEO at Restore Skills.

Restore Skills is a cloud-based platform with a library of 50 games that occupational therapists can use for rehabilitation and skills development. 51-year-old Mike Willham has multiple sclerosis. Moving a ball in his hand to play a slot machine game is more than just having fun at winning jackpots.

"It allows me to move my left arm from side to side and up and down. And it has built up strength in the left arm," said Willham as he made those moves. An up and down motion with the ball caused the arm on the slot machine to activate.

VIDEO: COVID-19 prompts demand for home healthcare instead of nursing homes

As some nursing homes continue to be hot spots for COVID-19, there is a growing demand for in-home health care, and caregivers.

The Restore Skills platform recently added remote play with family members so they compete with the patient, provide some motivation and visit virtually to check on progress.

"It's helping with cognition, it helps with fine motor, gross motor coordination, strengthening," said Carrie Blum, an occupational therapy assistant at The Heights Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center. "It's been helping with their endurance and activity tolerance."

Initially, a patient might play up to a minute before getting tired. But as they get stronger and more confident, sometimes they double or triple that time.

Perhaps the most important benefit is addressing the isolation created by the pandemic. Lack of social interaction can be detrimental.

"What they see is a very depressed person, somebody who has lost weight, somebody was lost, stop eating enough to sustain life and even dying from things other than COVID," said Cristina Flores, Ph.D., an elder care advocate based in San Francisco.

This is a solution for a problem that is growing as COVID-19 threatens to prolong long-term isolation for those who need socialization.

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