Cleveland-based Augment Therapy is making physical therapy fun for kids via augmented reality

When Lindsay Watson saw how many kids took to the streets to play Pokemon Go, it sparked an idea. In her 13 years working with children with conditions like Down’s Syndrome and cerebral palsy, the pediatric physical therapist often dealt with patients who resisted doing their repetitive and boring physical therapy exercises after leaving her office.

But here was a game that inspired kids to ditch the PlayStation for the park without prodding from parents.

“My kids thought it was the coolest thing ever,” says the Chagrin Falls resident. “I knew that I could twist that [concept] and use it for health purposes. It would be so motivating: I could get a child to walk that won’t walk.”

With help from software developer Steve Blake, in 2017 she set out to create Augment Therapy, which uses augmented reality similar to Pokemon Go to make exercise fun. The software uses a camera to capture a child’s image and movement, integrating it into an on-screen game where they interact with cartoon characters and win badges for accomplishments.

Designed to complement in-office physical therapy, therapists can tailor the exercises to each child’s specific needs and receive data from it. The goal is to get kids to do more of their prescribed exercises and see faster results.

“There's no other solution right now in physical therapy for children that is doing this,” says Watson, who adds that innovation in pediatric physical therapy often takes a backseat to innovation for adults due to it being a smaller market.

Watson has even seen proof of concept in her own home. Her four-year-old daughter needed hip surgery after a bacterial infection caused septic arthritis. Reluctant to put her weight on that side, she would scream and fight when doing her physical therapy exercises. Watson had her try Augment Therapy, including an activity where she would shift her weight to shake a snowglobe she appeared within on the screen.

“She was very excited to make it snow on the screen,” says Watson. “So she kept shifting her body weight back and forth with no knowledge she was doing the most fundamental physical therapy exercise possible. The difference it made was unbelievable.”

Watson is working towards a launch date in October, and in the meantime, the Plug and Play Tech Center has helped her get pilot programs underway at Cleveland Clinic and Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. Last Thursday, Augment Therapy won third place at the Medical Capital Innovation Competition, gaining Watson $15,000 and a sponsorship from MetroHealth.

“I'd like to prove wrong the mindset that pediatric innovation is not worth the time or money of investors,” she says. “I'd like to improve pediatric healthcare and accessibility for all kids. I have big goals.”

Ilona Westfall
Ilona Westfall

About the Author: Ilona Westfall

Ilona Westfall is a Cleveland-based freelance writer. When she's not penning articles for a variety of Ohio publications, she's roller skating with Burning River Roller Derby, rolling d20s with her D&D group, or getting muddy in the woods. Follow her on twitter @IlonaWestfall.