• Extreme Makeover: Home Edition Deploys Rehabilitation Research to Help a Veteran in Need

    Orli Belman

    Jewel Mine, the balance training motor rehabilitation game developed by the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT), was installed in the Ottawa, KS, home of injured Iraq war veteran SSG Allen Hill to aid in his rehabilitation. (Image courtesy of ICT.)

    A crew from the popular television program Extreme Makeover: Home Edition recently installed a physical therapy exercise game developed at the University of Southern California (USC) Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) in a house built for Iraq war veteran SSG Allen Hill, who suffered injuries and needed to be able to do customized rehabilitation exercises at home.

    “This is a researcher’s dream come true,” said ICT’s Belinda Lange, who specializes in creating virtual reality game-based applications for motor rehabilitation. She developed the Jewel Mine game that was installed in Hill’s home. “To be able to see your work make it out of the lab and make a real impact on someone’s life is truly amazing.”

    Lange did see her work  move from the lab into Hill’s life. Literally.

    The show’s production crew invited her to the construction site in Ottawa, KS, where she oversaw the installation of her Xbox 360 Kinect-based game and demonstrated how it could easily be tailored specifically for Hill’s rehabilitation goals.

    “The beauty of adapting off-the-shelf gaming systems, like the Microsoft Kinect, for rehabilitation is that we can adjust them for each user, and we can also record the user’s movements and track progress,” said Lange. “There is a need to modify existing games, which are often too difficult for physical therapy patients or just don’t target the areas they need.”

    Jewel Mine is a balance training game designed for people, like Hill, who have suffered brain injury or other physical or neurological injuries. Players must extend their arms and reach for jewels that light up in various patterns during the game.

    “In order to improve motor function lost due to physical and brain injuries, patients need to perform the same motions over and over,” said Lange. “These exercises are repetitive by design, and that can get boring. Putting them in a game setting helps to keep users motivated.”

    “The beauty of adapting off-the-shelf gaming systems, like the Microsoft Kinect, for rehabilitation is that we can adjust them for each user, and we can also record the user’s movements and track progress.”

    Hill certainly seemed motivated. (Watch the scene where Extreme Makeover: Home Edition host Ty Pennington reveals the game to him online at http://youtu.be/cZn0ee4sevk.)

    As for Lange, she, too, is motivated to continue her work. She recently received funding from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory’s Army Research Office and the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, to modify and evaluate the game at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center.

    She will be watching her study subject’s progress as well as that of SSG Hill.

    “Sergeant Hill was an inspiration,” she said. “I can’t wait to go back to Kansas to check on him and get more feedback on our project.”

    For more information about ICT’s Motor Rehab Lab, visit http://medvr.ict.usc.edu/labs/motor-rehab.


    • ORLI BELMAN is the Public Relations and Projects Manager at the USC ICT. She has a bachelor’s degree in East Asian studies from UCLA and an M.A. in journalism from Columbia University.

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