New Technology for Rehab

Note: In 2011, AOTA identified this and many other topics as emerging niches in occupational therapy. Today, many of these topics have become mainstream. Learn more about the 2011 Emerging Niche series here.

New Technology Why emerging? New technology is changing the way we interact, communicate, and go about our daily lives. This is evident through the widespread use of smart phones (more than 70 million users in the U.S. alone1), and the ease of downloading and using applications (apps) to do everything from check the latest headlines, get weather updates, or find the closest coffee shop. In some ways it seems like many smart phone and tablet computer apps were made for therapy—they offer speech to text options, handwriting enhancements, options for motor skill development, and so forth. Some practitioners are using gaming devices, such as the Nintendo Wii, to provide rehabilitative activities. The advances in technology continue, and occupational therapy practitioners will want to create innovative ways to use new technology in their practice.

Get Involved: When the Nintendo Wii came out in 2006, Nathan "Ben" Herz, OTD, MBA, OTR/L, decided to buy one for his department because he was interested in seeing whether it could help his clients with Parkinson's disease. After noticing some improvements, he conducted research studies using the Wii as a modality, and now all of his research is based on virtual reality and video games. Herz found that motivation increased, depression went away, quality of life improved, rigidity decreased, and clients could move better when using the Wii.

"I believe that we're not using the technology to its full potential," says Herz. "Most people are using it for exer-gaming, which is great for the heart rate and movement, but there is a cognitive aspect to it that is amazing, as well as a psychosocial aspect." Herz recommends practitioners "go for it" with technology and remember that technology can assist and enhance what occupational therapy practitioners are already doing. Herz uses a variety of games with his clients, such as boxing, fishing, cooking, brain teasers, and more. "I'm able to teach knife skills with a client with Parkinson's using the Wii without putting him or me in danger by having a real knife in his hand."

Herz believes that video games have a long way to go with accessibility and actual simulation, but even now the technology has a lot to offer occupational therapy clients. Practitioners can also use smart phones and tablet computers to facilitate fine motor skills and sequencing, and to run text to speech programs, according to Herz. "Don't be afraid of technology," he says. "Understand that there is so much it has to offer, and we haven't really touched the surface yet."

Picture by:



  1. comScore. (2011, May 6). comScore reports March 2011 U.S. mobile subscriber market share. Retrieved May 12, 2011, from