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Video Poker Machines Find Therapeutic Use in Vegas Rehab

Rehabilitation facilities often strive to find innovative ways to administer care to their patients. The HealthSouth Rehab hospital in Las Vegas has found an interesting approach to helping stroke victims and patients afflicted by Parkinson’s Disease, amputees and other medical issues affecting motor ability. The staff are using video poker machines to stimulate patients’ prefrontal cortexes, which handles impulse control, memory, attention span and problem-solving. It seems that video poker machines are not just for gambling anymore.

Patients are given 15-minute sessions on the video poker machines and are given assistance if needed. The video poker machines operate on Free Play mode, meaning no real money is being gambled. In developing this rehabilitation practice, the HealthSouth staff weighed the options of using video slot machines versus video poker machines. They went with the latter because video poker is a decision-based game that involves more mental processing and physical movements. Video slot games are considered games of chance with no real strategy development or implementation, so the staff wanted a way of engaging players more.

Las Vegas, Nevada is considered the heart of gambling in the US. Most of the patients in the facility are locals and are previous gamblers. Video poker therapy helps in another way by establishing a sense of familiarity amongst the patients. Gambling is a part of the local culture and video poker machines are a common sight throughout the city, so patients feel comfortable with the presence of the machines. Aside from the therapeutic benefits, these video poker machines instill a social aspect to the facility; a lighthearted environment where patients can find entertainment through therapy.

“It’s very familiar and very often automatic, it’s a source of entertainment and socialization for these patients that they enjoy,” said Sarah Tempest, a speech pathologist at HealthSound.

The idea to use video poker machines came through Sandy McGinnis, an occupational therapist at the facility. While the HealthSouth staff supports their new practice, it has been met with some criticism by other healthcare peers. Dr. Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist and Fox News contributor, suggested the staff be wary of how the therapy develops. Gambling can be very addictive and spawn impulse control issues. Dr. Ablow may feel that gambling addictions can develop, however this instance is different in that there is no real money being offered.

HealthSouth ‘s video poker therapy is certainly a bold endeavor, but reveals a side of gambling that isn’t so readily perceived. It is an appropriate form of therapy given the location of the rehab facility. Time will tell if video poker therapy is successful, though the HealthSouth staff remain confident that patients’ prefrontal cortex stimulation will help them make considerable progress.