It started out as an exercise to find out if virtual reality games could be used to stimulate an improvement in motor skills which had been impaired after a stroke.
Many special care units are already using gaming consoles like the Wii to improve hand to eye co-ordination and retrain stroke patients in manual dexterity following a recovery process in which they have regained some use of their upper limbs.
The lasting damage to motor and muscular activities resulting from a stroke can vary from total paralysis, usually on one side of the body, to impaired or restricted movement of the arms, hands and fingers.
Rehabilitation studies have shown that recovery in the first few months is vital and that by far the most progress will be made in the weeks and months immediately following the stroke. After that any improvement will be minimal and very slow.
So anything that can speed up this process and increase the chances of a fuller recovery is a welcome addition to any treatment strategy.
The application of gaming technology as a stimulus to repeated exercise may seem obvious, but researchers wanted to test whether it was any more effective than say, playing cards or even bingo.
The team at St Michael’s Hospital in Toronto recruited 141 test subjects who had suffered a recent stroke and been left with significant impairment in one or both of their hands and arms.
They were divided into two groups, one of which relied only on traditional games like cards, Jenga and Bingo; the others were given Wii consoles to play with.
Each group was provided with an hour session of ‘game activity’ on top of their usual rehabilitation programme for ten days over a two week period.
When improvements were measured and charted, both groups had experienced a significant boost to their recovery.
Neither method outstripped the other but both proved extremely beneficial in hastening recovery.
The team was pleased to conclude that the frequency and intensity of the level of repetitive hand and finger movement was more important than the medium chosen to provide the therapy.
So whether it’s Jenga, snap or Medal of Honour that grabs a stroke victim’s attention and keeps them occupied, the results are hugely beneficial.
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