Upon seeing this and related stories about video games aiding stroke victims, the first thought was “there is no way that Resident Evil and other zombie apocalyptic slash 'em ups are going to help elderly Mrs. Jones across the street regain her speech and motor skills.” It turns out, the type of video games used in the University of Toronto study were realistic Wii games like tennis and Cooking Mama that teaches kitchen skills.
Video games have been thought to create problems with memory among other neurological effects. But in the case of stroke patients, it seemed a fun, engaging way to regain physical strength, movement, and speed. Even though the improvements were greater than those displayed after playing non-cyber card and board games, researchers are not ready to recommend it as a strategy. One side effect was dizziness, and the study was done with too few patients to be concrete.
Playing video games may aid stroke victims
Stroke patients might find themselves stealing a turn on the kids' Wii game if the results of a preliminary new study pan out.
Researchers at the University of Toronto found that playing eight hours of Wii tennis and a popular cooking game in which the players cut potatoes and peel onions led to significant motor skills improvement and better recovery in stroke patients.
The study was small — only 20 patients — and a larger study is in the works. But the results were promising, said Dr. Gustavo Saposnik, director of the stroke outcomes research unit at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.
“This study is the first to show that virtual reality using Wii technology is safe, feasible and potentially effective in improving motor function after a stroke,” Saposnik said Thursday at the American Stroke Association‘s International Stroke Conference in San Antonio.
The study involved patients who'd suffered a mild to moderate stroke within the past two months.
They were divided into two groups assigned to eight, one-hour sessions over two weeks with one playing Wii tennis and Cooking Mama, a kitchen skills game.
The other group played cards, bingo and Jenga, a block-stacking game. Both groups also received physical and occupational therapy.
At the end, the Wii group had more strength and speed, measured through a variety of tests. The card-playing group didn't.
Saposnik said the idea came to him after getting the game for Father's Day and playing with his 5-year-old daughter. To make things fair, the left-hander decided to compete using his right hand.
“And I noticed it was difficult, but over time I noted that I improved,” Saposnik said.
“What we know scientifically is that in order to recover, patients need to have engagement of their attention, their vision and their movement,” said Pamela Duncan, a professor of physical therapy at Duke University in Durham, N.C., who wasn't involved in the research. “The Wii provides that as a game, and it also provides fun and engages the patient to achieve a goal.”
While the range of motions and reactions used by the patients had something to do with their improvement, Saposnik said the nature of the popular Wii game also might be a factor.
Wii involves a hand-held controller and a motion sensor so the players see a cartoon version of themselves on the screen, moving as they move.
That might engage a type of nerve cell in the brain known as mirror neurons, which fire when someone moves or when they see someone else move the same way, he said.
Despite the favorable results, the researchers aren't yet ready to recommend stroke patients go out and buy a Wii.
While no adverse effects were found besides a little dizziness, the study included too few patients to make that a certainty. A larger study should help identify any problems, Saposnik said.
In other research presented Thursday at the meeting, a British study of more than 22,000 people found regular coffee drinkers were 29 percent less likely to have a stroke than noncoffee drinkers.
Results were the same regardless of whether they drank regular or decaffeinated coffee.
By DON FINLEY, SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS