What Happens in Vegas … Helps People Heal

Rehab patients with traumatic brain injuries and other issues find exciting new hope in video poker machines

Video poker machines are everywhere in Las Vegas. From the airport to grocery stores and the thousands that line the casinos, gamblers have ample opportunity to try their luck.

But now, a rehab center in Las Vegas is using two video poker machines for a completely different and distinct purpose: to help patients who want a new and creative way to supplement their rehab routine.

Patients play on the machines for about 15 minutes at a time and do not use real money.

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HealthSouth Rehab hospital uses the machines to treat patients with certain ailments stemming from strokes, Parkinson’s disease, amputations, and anything that affects motor ability.

“What we know about gambling is that it stimulates the prefrontal cortex, and that’s an area of the brain that can be damaged in a traumatic brain injury,” Sarah Tempest, a speech pathologist at the facility, told Fox News.

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Tempest said this type of stimulation to the prefrontal cortex can help patients with attention, working memory, problem-solving, and impulse control.

Patients play on the machines for about 15 minutes at a time and do not use any real money. For those patients without cognitive impairments, the therapy can also help with movement and endurance.

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Sandy McGinnis, an occupational therapist at HealthSouth, told Fox News they got creative when brainstorming how the facility could implement the machines.

“One of our coworkers here, her husband works on slot machines for a living, and she had talked to the director of therapy and asked if they wanted to incorporate them, and we said yes,” McGinnis told Fox News.

Tempest acknowledges many of the hospital’s patients see slot machines and poker as being part of the local way of life.

“It’s very familiar and very often automatic, it’s a source of entertainment and socialization for these patients that they enjoy,” she said.

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Some reservations persist as to the effectiveness of using video poker machines to treat patients. Dr. Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist and Fox News contributor, said it’s important for doctors to monitor patients so that the poker doesn’t turn into an addiction.

“It’s very important for the clinicians to tell the patients if they’re going to pursue this path, keep in mind you might have impulse-control problems,” he said.

Andrew Craft is a Fox News multimedia reporter based in Las Vegas, Nevada. This Fox News article is used with permission. 

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