Australian Neuroscientist: Video Games Great for Stroke Rehab

Neuroscientist Stuart Smith of Neuroscience Research Australia in Sydney is using video games to make rehabilitation exercises for stroke patients less boring. Smith says that the biggest problem with rehabilitation exercises for stroke patients is that most participants find that they are about as exciting as watching paint dry. Many of Smith's stroke patients find the traditional exercises associated with rehabilitation repetitive and frustrating. Traditional rehab improves motor control and reduces sensory and intellectual impairment.

"This is especially the case with the young guys," says Smith. "It's difficult to even get them to turn up to the rehabilitation sessions sometimes. You can move a bag of sand across a desk thousands of times a day and see a very clear improvement, but no one's going to do that."

Smith sees that people would rather play video games, so he has come up with a novel approach, combining both. While Smith could use a VR system used by many in his field (San Francisco psychologist Ralph Lamson's VR immersion therapy technology is one that has proven effective), Smith prefers using games that are readily available on systems that support motion control, such as iPad and the Wii.

"We use a game called Fruit Ninja," Smith explains. "It's a fruit-slicing game you play on an iPad touchscreen." The game requires players to make frequent rapid precision wrist movements across the screen to slice the virtual fruit. The movements mimic exercises used in fine motor-skills therapy. Smith is also modifying certain games for the Nintendo Wii and other consoles to make them easier for stroke patients to play. The results are promising, according to Smith.

"We've found that most of our patients actually do more than what we ask of them," says fellow NeurA researcher Penelope McNulty, creator of a similar Wii-oriented rehabilitation program. "In traditional therapy, it's a struggle to get people to do the minimum amount. [This] is a lot of fun, so people enjoy doing it. Therefore, they do the hours they need to do to gain the benefit,"

McNulty adds that rewards and incentives built into the game, along with the element of competition are very "motivating" to many patients.

It also doesn't hurt that many of the games these neuroscientist use are familiar to many patients, which isn't the case with other rehabilitation methods. McNulty also notes they use these games and game systems "in a very structured, formalised way" and that patients are given "specific movement strategies to work on."

It's not yet clear if the video games serve the rehabilitation process better than more traditional programs, beyond the engagement and interest shown by patients.

"We'll be investigating that with functional magnetic resonance imaging tests soon," says McNulty.

"This is really just the beginning," Smith says. "We're going to see these things get better and better."

Source: The Australian

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