Video Games for Rehabilitation

This is part of our on-going series of exploring neurological and degenerative conditions that can affect a number of individuals and specifically how Physical Therapy can help”

Continuing with the theme of neuroplasticity and making new connections today we look at the potential of video games to aide in rehabilitation from a Stroke, Taumatic Brain Injury, or living with MS or Parkinson’s.  As has been mentioned before the in order to make new connections, the brain needs a lot of repetitions to ensure success.  Providing a lot of repetitions like over a 100 for a give task is difficult and one study noted typically in a rehab session only 30 repetitions are reached.  This number is significantly below what is needed to make a difference so therapists have been trying to find different means of engaging their patients when not in therapy.  Over the last 5-10 years the use of video games like the Wii and X-Box have been making an appearance in rehab sessions across the country and with great success.  This success has transferred to patients doing some of this work at home too.

Over the last five years, several studies have been published and found that the Wii led to significantly improved motor function in a group of post stroke survivors within the first 6 months of having a stroke compared to individuals who just participated in table top recreation games.  Other preliminary studies have shown that the Wii balance board helped individuals with hemiparesis from an acquired brain injury.  Another study indicated functional benefits of the Wii fit games with people who were diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

It has been studied and hypothesized that video game training can lead to improvement in cognition, motor control and behavior in a population that is receiving rehabilitation.  Studies have shown faster reaction times, improved visual fields and awareness, as well as improved execution of motor tasks.  Video game provide a diversion and are often more fun than regular therapeutic activities.  These games can also give the vast number or repetitions needed to enhance the brains ability to make new connections.  Some interactive video games can provide an excellent amount of bio feedback, action/reward that is particularly helpful for the brain connections.

For example, the Wii Balance board provides feedback as to where your center of gravity is within the activity.  A patient is able to directly visual how they are controlling their balance and what is actually happening.  In the same sense this is true for arm activities too.  A patient is able to visually connect their actions to a task and see the rewards or failures.  These are extremely important connections to be making.

Some of the more popular games used in the rehabilitation world are the Wii Sports, Fit and Balance activities.   Believe it or not but the bowling and tennis sports games are excellent and can be incorporated to help in a number of activities such as reaching, swinging arm, standing, sit to stand, hand-eye coordination and balance.  Certain X-Box games are also popular because there is immediate visual and motor feedback as well and there are a variety of entertaining games whether sports related or adventure seeking that require the practice of skilled motor movements and coordination.

Take a look at some of these options, have a little fun and you will be surprised at some of the improvements you see!

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