Pokemon Go and Occupational Therapy

Pokemon Go as an Occupational Therapy Intervention?

Unless you’ve been living off the grid, you may have heard of this silly Pokemon Go game. If you haven’t, check out the first few minutes of this video on YouTube.

You also may have even seen the news article about Occupational Therapists using Pokemon Go as an intervention in Oklahoma.

After reading the article, I thought to myself: “Whhhat? That’s just crazy.” And then, I switched my line of thought to: “That’s interesting,” to “I might actually try this.”

The news article above is super short and basically just covers that Easter Seals using Pokemon Go as an occupational therapy intervention.

They use it to “help patients with spatial awareness, visual perception skills, following directions and instructional cues, fine motor skills, impulse control and social skills in taking turns with peers.”

That sounded good enough to me to at least try it out, thinking everything would go as according to plan and that my patients love it.

What Settings are Appropriate for Pokemon Go?

To start off, you may be wondering if your patients in your setting would benefit from using the game. I think any age could use it, from pediatrics to geriatrics if you have goals that tie into what Pokemon Go addresses.

I think for acute care or acute inpatient rehab, this would probably be a bit too high level and since they likely need more advanced interventions to address self-care and functional mobility deficits.

Rehab patients with higher level functional mobility (i.e. able to walk easily) may be able to play it with no problem at all.  You’ll of course want to use your clinical judgement to make sure the treatment does address your patient’s specific deficits versus just playing it for the fun of it.

Common sense, I know!

If you’re walking with your patients from point A to point B (like their room to the gym), it can be fun to bring out the game to make the trek a little bit more fun as well as an increased cognitive challenge. This is, of course, if the game actually works for you.

How my Attempt at Using Pokemon Go in Treatment Went

I tried using Pokemon Go with two patients, both in the ALF setting and both ambulatory. Let me just say that my first time bringing this out was kind of a let-down. Not because my patient couldn’t play it, but because we found literally zero Pokemon!

Pokemon Go and Occupational Therapy

The unfortunate frozen Poke Ball during therapy.

I introduced the game to my 78 year old male assisted living patient, hyping it up to tell him all about the Pokemon we would find on the walk from the gym to the dining room.

I thought it would be the perfect little opportunity to try the game in the last bit of our session, and it definitely was a bust. I felt so bad hearing him ask, “But where are the Pokemon?” and I had nothing to show for it. So make sure you save up those dumb “Incense” things to attract more Pokemon if this happens to you 🙂

Second attempt, also in the geriatrics setting with another male patient (74 years old). We did find a little bird-like creature called a Pidgie right away.

We both got SO excited, but then the thing disappeared and the screen froze. The second Pokemon we saw was an unsightly rat cleverly named Ratatta. My patient caught the little rascal but the game froze while he was in the ball. At least we finally wrangled one!

So in MY personal attempts, Pokemon Go did not work out so well. I also ran out of Poke Balls (which you have to use to catch them) because my patients got a little trigger-happy.

Who could blame them, though?

The Final Verdict

I’ve sadly decided that I probably won’t be attempting Pokemon Go again with my older patients.

The combination of the glitches, lack of Pokemon in the building, and limited “resources” (Poke Balls) didn’t equal out to the greatest catching-sessions, and led to more frustration on my end. Being a total “noob” (as the gamers would say) at this game probably didn’t help much either.

The good news is we all got some extra standing tolerance and increased functional mobility despite the game not panning out.

Even so, l think I’ll be sticking to the Wii next time I want to bring technology into treatments. The Wii is easier to use physically, easier to see, and it offers so much more balance work, reaching, range of motion, hand-eye coordination and just seems way more predictable.

It is also easier for the patients to manipulate the controller as carrying a phone and a walker at the same time is not really possible.

I do think this is a fascinating new direction that technology is going. After all, this is only the first version of a 3-D virtual/real-world game like this. And it wasn’t even necessarily designed for the geriatric setting. Who’s to say there won’t be something amazing that will come along designed just for our patients in the near future?

I would love to hear if you’ve tried Pokemon Go as an occupational therapy intervention, and how it went for you. I’m hoping you all have some better success stories than me. 🙂

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  • Karen July 21, 2016   Reply →

    Wow never even thought about using Pokemon as a treatment strategy. I work in both the school setting and also acute hospital and ALF settings! As soon as school starts back up, I’ll give the Pokemon game a shot and share my findings! Thanks for always introducing new, interesting and creative ways to think, and allow us to help our clients and patients stay engaged and meet their goals! Hmmmm….who knew….Pokemon and OT could potentially go together!

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L July 21, 2016   Reply →

      I honestly wouldn’t have thought about using either had I not read that Oklahoma news article! I’m sure it would be great in the school setting. I can’t wait to hear how it goes for you!

  • Audra Lowery July 25, 2016   Reply →

    While Niantic isn’t known for making games accessible, Nintendo is wonderful. It might take some pushing, but if therapists contacted them I am sure they would get Niantic to release some kind of patch to help you get incense, a version that would be more helpful, or something. http://www.nintendo.com/corp/accessibility.jsp has the accessibility division contact information.

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L July 25, 2016   Reply →

      Thanks so much for that, Audra! I hadn’t even thought of contacting the company about adapting the game for therapists or adding the incense patch (which I don’t think would be difficult). This is a great idea as many facilities don’t have the funds for a Wii so it’s a good idea for a low-cost way to incorporate technology into treatment sessions. I’m definitely going to dig further into this and hope to see other therapists pushing for this as well.

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