A new study finds that MS patients who used the Wii Balance Board five days a week to play dance and snowboarding games had better balance. According to the lead author of the study Dr. Luca Prosperini (a neurologist at Sapienza University in Rome, Italy), this type of therapy is useful because there are no drugs on the market that restore or improve balance for those suffering from the disease.
The study found that those who used the Wii Balance Board therapy had reduced risks associated with falls and saw a marked improvement in certain brain connections related to movement and coordination. The only caveats to the study are that the test group was relatively small, and there was a risk that some patients could fall and hurt themselves while using the Balance Board. The latter issue can be eliminated by having patients stay seated while in the therapy.
"Patients with MS should be encouraged to start using this system only under supervision," Prosperini said. "Once well-trained, they may use it at home."
Prosperini said that he tried to get a grant from Nintendo to support his research, but the company wasn't interested; instead he managed to secure funding from the Italian MS Society.
A previous study by Prosperini tested the theory that MS patients can regain balance when they use the Wii Balance Board. His latest study sought to understand what was happening in the brain while using the Wii Balance Board.
The new study, published online Aug. 26 in Radiology, tested 27 MS patients who were split into two groups. One group spent three months doing nothing as the control group, while the other group played with the Wii Balance Board for 30 to 40 minutes a day, five days a week. Then the groups reversed roles, and another 15 healthy people were also tested. All subjects had MRI scans to detect any physiological changes in the brain.
Researchers found that patients regained some balance and their brains actually changed. They also found improvements in the protective sheath around nerves, leading to better transmission of impulses between the body and brain, according to Prosperini.
Prosperini said that more research is needed, especially since the study was so small in scope. He also said that this latest study did not establish de facto cause and affect.