Researchers Use Games to Help Children with Cystic Fibrosis

July 29, 2011 -

Video game-focused research being conducted by students and researchers at Champlain College in Vermont may prove to be an effective way of helping children with cystic fibrosis better deal with sticky mucus that can clog their lungs and make breathing difficult.

Children with cystic fibrosis often need to cough up the thick mucus to keep it from blocking their airways. One common treatment for this is chest physical therapy, also called clapping or percussion. Pounding on the chest and back, using a cupped hand, a mechanical aid, or special vest, can help loosen mucus and break up clumps so they can be coughed up. Another method is a special breathing exercise called "huffing." Researchers in Vermont found that children often refused to do huffing exercises, claiming they would rather play video games. It doesn't take a member of MENSA to figure out that children could be enticed to do these exercises with the help of some entertaining technology of some sort.

The research team turned the breathing exercises into a video game by designing software that forces players to breathe in certain ways to play the game. The controller for the game is a digital spirometer, a tool used to measure how much and how fast air is moved out of the lungs on each breath. Students at Champlain College in Vermont helped create one of the games; players can drive a race car, fill it up with gas, and wash it by performing special breathing techniques. Another game allows children to blow slime off animals they discover in the game in order to earn treasures.

Peter M. Bingham, lead author of the study and associate professor of neurology and pediatrics at the University of Vermont and pediatric neurologist at Fletcher Allen Health Care thinks these new ways of getting kids to do huffing exercises are incredibly helpful and useful to patients.

"The medical goal of the game was to increase breathing maneuvers that respiratory therapists believe can help keep the airways of cystic fibrosis patients clearer," Bingham said.

Researchers tested their games on 13 children ages 8-18. The participants had their lung functions tested, and then spent two weeks playing the games and another two weeks using the spirometer without game play. The research team concluded that the participants’ ability to take a deep breath improved more significantly after playing the games. They posit that this happened because participants practiced the breathing technique more while playing than they did simply using the spirometer.

Bingham's conclusion?

"We think these results show that using spirometer games can be a good way to involve children in respiratory therapy." He said. "I think it’s ethical and appropriate to meet kids ‘where they are’ with some engaging digital games that can help them take charge of their own health."

The results of the study will be presented at the 2011 Pediatric Academic Society meeting in Denver, Colorado.

Source: Empow Her

 


 
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