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wdlove
Jun 22, 2004, 07:20 PM
Two years ago Mark Rocheford of suburban Minneapolis had a stroke that damaged his memory, paralyzed his left side and left him partially blind. Rocheford, now 56, underwent extensive rehabilitation within months of his stroke, but, as of April, his left hand was still ''pretty much useless."

Frustrated, Rocheford volunteered to be part of an experimental ''homework" program for stroke patients. He spent up to four hours a day playing a computer game designed to get him to exercise his left hand.

In two weeks of game-playing, he made as much progress as in the previous two years, regaining the ability to point, grab the handle of a pulley exercise system, and touch each finger to his thumb. ''He showed me all the stuff he could do, and I was amazed," said Rocheford's 21-year-old daughter Erin, who observed her father during weekend breaks from college.

The program is part of a small but growing trend in health care to harness home computers to supplement regular visits with a therapist or a counselor. Home-based computer therapy programs are now under design across the country to help stroke victims, people with psychological problems, and disabled children, among others.

Researchers predict that the relatively low cost and accessibility of the Web will overturn what they see as a generational lag in embracing computer technology-assisted therapy.

'Its going to happen, its just a matter of when," said David J. Reinkensmeyer , a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of California at Irvine who is developing a way for stroke patients to increase their strength and hand mobility, and measure their advances via the Web. ''You'll be wired, and you'll talk to your therapist every few weeks."

The Internet age is also arriving in psychotherapy, as computer-phobic therapists retire from the profession, said psychologist Craig Childress, a member of the International Society for Mental Health Online who has published several articles about online therapy.

http://www.boston.com/news/science/articles/2004/06/22/doctors_assign_computer_homework/