Pokemon Go – I choose you! For therapy, that is.

The new application for mobile devices has quickly become a craze, with record breaking numbers of people downloading it in its first week of release to search for cartoon characters in real-world settings. There’s also been some criticism of the app because of people injuring themselves as they forget to pay attention to their surroundings during the search or for playing in inappropriate areas such as cemeteries and at memorials.

For James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital recreation therapist James Kaplan, what some people may see as a drawback can be used as a teaching tool in his recreational therapy program. He recently used the app in his program with Veteran Justin Gomez for the first time.

Pokemon Go Tampa VAMC

VA recreation therapist James Kaplan used Pokémon Go as a teaching tool in his recreational therapy program. He recently used the app in his program with Veteran Justin Gomez for the first time.

Gomez has been undergoing treatment and therapy for traumatic brain injury (TBI) at the JAHVH Polytrauma Clinic for several months. He has made tremendous progress during his stay, to the point that he recently received a wheelchair, which he can use by himself rather than having somebody else push him around.  He does still have problems with his vision, speech and cognitive abilities that Kaplan believes can be helped with the use of the Pokemon Go app and other apps like it.

Since the app encourages people to move around in public places as they search for the various animated creatures, patients like Gomez can get out under supervision and gain valuable experience in areas like reinforcing social boundaries and maintaining vigilance in their surroundings. Both are areas where the application has drawn criticism in the media.

“Apps like this can help as a teaching tool,” Kaplan said. “There are areas we want to stay away from, respectful places.  We can show them that even though a Pokemon is showing up in a cemetery, it’s not right to go in there.  It can also help with vigilance so they know to scan their environment to stay safe.”

When it comes to helping Veterans reintegrate into the community, Kaplan and other therapists already use technology and applications like Google Maps to help teach planning out routes and finding transportation options. Since Pokemon Go also relies on GPS positioning, it can help teach some of those same skills.

“Pokemon Go can be a fun way to introduce route finding and safety awareness” Kaplan explained. “Decision making is another important skill it can help with.  You have to look at the weather conditions – do I need an umbrella or sunscreen.  Is it worth the time to safely play the game?”

Gomez said that while his two-year-old daughter loves the game, this was his first time playing it. He said he could see some benefits to using it in his therapy program.

“This really helps me with my movements, and it helps me see it (on the screen) because it beeps when you’re near one,” Gomez said. “It helps me move around to different places.”

He also saw a future benefit, one that will come into play when his daughter visits. Apps like this can also help Veterans with TBI rehabilitate socially and improve interaction with loved ones.

“My little girl loves it,” he said, adding that it will be a way for them to connect together. “It’s better than sitting in my room with her because she likes playing.”

He said he can envision his little girl sitting on his lap as they maneuver the wheelchair around in search of Pokémon.

“She’ll probably be the steering wheel telling me where to go.”

Editor’s note:  VA encourages the public to be respectful of Veterans receiving health care at our facilities. We also request that visitors to any national cemetery exhibit the respect and decorum of these shrines. Recreational gaming, like Pokémon Go, is not permitted at these facilities. Read more >>


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Published on Jul. 18, 2016

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