Client who had brain injury returns to the links thanks to adaptive gaming sessions with occupational therapy students

Ciaran Moore has been an avid golfer throughout his life. But a traumatic brain injury he had a few years ago has prevented his return to the links as he has struggled with physical difficulties.

However, that doesn’t mean he still doesn’t golf. It’s just taken on an electronic form at the MGH Institute, where he has been playing a video golf game while working with Doctor of Occupational Therapy students as part of his rehabilitation.

“It’s been fun,” said Moore, a Dorchester resident who’s originally from Ireland, as he sat with second-year students Alice Lee and Jean Paul Vasquez Rivera in the Tabor/Connor Family Occupational Therapy Center for Learning, Participation, and Rehabilitation. This was Moore’s third session with them, and the first in a few months since the previous semester.

The students had little information about Moore’s interests when they first met him. But a golf hat he was wearing spurred a conversation with Moore and his wife, Shauna, and soon they zeroed in on getting Ciaran back in the swing of things.

“When we first did our session, it was a lot of finding the right controller and getting Ciaran comfortable with using it,” said Rivera. 

Subsequent sessions have seen a steady, if slow improvement. 

“He’s come a long way with his endurance,” noted Lee, as her classmate was helping Moore tee off on the third hole of the video game.

A man stands next to a woman
Stroke survivor Ciaran Moore, with wife Shauna, is utilizing adaptive gaming therapy with occupational therapy students at the MGH Institute to recover from a traumatic brain injury he suffered a few years ago.

Incorporating adapting gaming into rehabilitation is something Kevin Berner has supported for some time. An assistive technology professional through the Rehabilitation Engineering Assistive Technology Society of North America, the assistant professor of occupational therapy said using interactive gaming can be a game changer.

“We’re starting to incorporate it more into all our clients’ lives because there are so many other priorities. Most of the time after someone has had a brain injury, they have to work on things like brushing their teeth or putting on the socks,” said Berner, who noted some of the equipment was donated by AbleGamers, a West Virginia company that works to ensure people with disabilities have positive influences through play. “But once you work beyond that, we can work on them getting back to things they love and want to do. It’s a great way to bring some fun into a person’s rehabilitation because they’re really motivated to do it.”

According to Shauna Moore, it’s been more than just seeing her husband hit the links virtually. 

“He’s been able to golf, and bowl too, with our kids so that’s allowed them to connect better with their dad,” said the Ireland native. “It’s been really good.”

Ciaran Moore’s work at the IHP goes beyond occupational therapy. To help with movement and balance deficits, he also receives physical therapy from students in the Marjorie K. Ionta PT Center for Clinical Education and Health Promotion. And because the brain injury has limited his speech, he works with speech-language pathology students in the Julie Atwood Speech, Language and Literacy Center. All of these pro-bono services are housed in the Dr. Charles and Ann Sanders IMPACT Practice Center. Dr Sanders is the former Massachusetts General Hospital head who was instrumental in the creation of the MGH Institute in 1977.

Three people facing each other talk in an office
Occupational therapy faculty Kevin Berner (right) talks with OTD students Alice Lee (left) and Jean Paul Vasquez Rivera (center) in the Tabor/Connor Family Occupational Therapy Center for Learning, Participation, and Rehabilitation.

Berner believes the impact of gaming will become more respected in the health professions as it becomes even more popular and influential with younger people. 

“Gaming can level the playing field, allowing individuals with disabilities to play alongside or against their nondisabled peers,” he said. “People game for all sorts of reasons — to engage socially, to unwind, to compete, to escape. Many experts expect that virtual reality will forge a bigger presence in our lives, and gaming will likely be a part of this.”

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