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Gaming the way to recovery

Could video games actually be good for you? Research from Ohio State seems to be pointing towards “yes.”

In two separate clinical trials, researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center are studying a therapeutic video gaming program for patients who have suffered strokes or have multiple sclerosis (MS) to see if it can help them at home.

Up to 80 percent of stroke survivors experience motor weakness, and it affects 325,000 individuals each year, according to the National Stroke Association. It’s defined as weakness or the inability to move one side of the body, and can be debilitating as it impacts everyday functions such as eating, dressing or grabbing objects.

For progressive MS patients, the purpose of this study is to determine whether an intensive, in-home, video game-based intervention improves hand and arm function in these individuals who are experiencing arm weakness.

The multidisciplinary team includes clinicians, computer scientists, an electrical engineer and a bio-mechanist collaborating with Lynne Gauthier, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation in Ohio State’s College of Medicine.

Together, they’ve designed the innovative video game called Recovery Rapids that incorporates effective ingredients of constraint-induced movement therapy.

The video game is easy to operate and game play is driven entirely by movements of the weaker hand and arm.

For a combined 30 hours over the course of three weeks, the patient-gamers are immersed in a river canyon environment, where they engage in high-repetition motor practice targeting the affected hand and arm. Various game scenarios promote movements that challenge the stroke survivor and are beneficial to recovery.

Some examples include: rowing and paddling down a river, fishing, swatting away bats inside a cave, grabbing bottles from the water, avoiding rocks in the rapids, catching parachutes containing supplies and steering to capture treasure chests.

“This model of therapy has shown positive results for individuals who have played the game,” Gauthier said. “It provides intense, high-quality motor practice for patients, in their own homes.

Patients tell us they have more motivation, time goes by quicker and the challenges are exciting and not so tedious.”

To ensure that motor gains made through the game carry over to daily life, the game encourages participants to reflect on their daily use of the weaker arm and engages the gamer in additional problem-solving ways of using the weaker arm for daily activities.

CI therapy is an intense treatment recommended for stroke survivors and improves motor function, as well as the use of impaired upper extremities.

However, less than 1 percent of those affected by hemiparesis receives the beneficial therapy.

“Lack of access, transportation and cost are contributing barriers to receiving CI therapy. To address this disparity, our team developed a 3D gaming system to deliver CI therapy to patients in their homes,” said Gauthier.