Matt Foreman, PhD Student

Image of Matt ForemanMatthew Foreman, BSME

PhD Student, Rehabilitation and Participation Science

In the Human Performance Laboratory in the Program in Occupational Therapy, Matthew Foreman is studying ways to engage children who have chronic illnesses in therapeutic activities. To do that, he studies video games — specifically motion-capture gaming software — so that he can then re-design the software to be used as a rehabilitation tool.

“We can change the parameters of a player’s movement to be in line with specific rehabilitative exercises,” Foreman explains. “The result is that we can engage the patient and enhance motivation and participation by using the fun aspect of games as a part of therapy.”

The Champaign, IL, native is working on the project as part of his coursework for a PhD in Rehabilitation and Participation Science. He was one of the first two students in the program. Previously, he earned a degree in mechanical engineering. It wasn’t until he started working in an occupational therapy laboratory during the summer of his junior year that he realized how he could bring his engineering skills and potentially improve rehabilitation outcomes.

“Occupational therapy wasn’t on my radar screen at first,” he admits. “But I realized that there was an opportunity to customize a niche. Engineering plus rehabilitation is pretty unique but I’ve been given the latitude to combine those in my PhD coursework.”

Foreman says he uses his engineering skills daily. Data analysis is a given. But he also uses a dynamometer to measure range of motion, and uses high level math to help design software and mechanical devices.

“For one game, we have designed a device that is placed on the ankle to trigger game movements,” he explains. “In this fashion, a patient who may have cerebral palsy or suffered a stroke can be engaged in a game and strengthen his ankle and range of movement at the same time."

The potential impact of his work is seen in a study of patient engagement. In traditional therapy, Foreman says, an hour of occupational therapy in a rehabilitative setting may mean a patient repeats an exercise an average of 50 times. Switch the patient to a motion-capture rehabilitative game, and the number of repetitions soars to 300.

“My PhD dissertation is focused on virtual reality in that I want to design a tool to measure how people compensate during upper extremity practice with the gaming software,” Foreman says.  “We think that if we can build something into the game that shapes how people adapt and try to manipulate the game, we can further impact the outcome of therapy.”

Of the PhD coursework, Foreman says, “It was tough at first, sort of a crash course because I was an engineer and didn’t have the background in occupational therapy when I arrived,” he says. “But everyday has been exciting. There’s dynamic discussion in the classrooms, not the regurgitating of books or papers. And faculty are actively fostering critical thinking and mentoring you throughout the process.

I would say the PhD program has way exceeded my expectations.”

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