Games with motion controls can help stroke victims recover without the monotony of traditional treatments.
You can use an iPad for a lot of things, like watching movies, reading books, typing up documents, and playing games. Now, you can also use it to recover from a stroke. An Australian neuroscientist has discovered that stroke patients – especially young ones – get bored easily by repetitive motor tasks, but embrace videogames with motion controls wholeheartedly. Since a big part of stroke recovery is perfecting repetitive motions, games like Fruit Ninja and the Wii’s library provide a fun, accessible, effective way for patients to recover.
“It’s difficult to even get [young people] to turn up to the rehabilitation sessions sometimes,” said Stuart Smith in The Australian newspaper. Smith works at Neuroscience Research Australia in Sydney, and has invested considerable time and effort in helping stroke victims recover motor functions. “You can move a bag of sand across a desk thousands of times a day and see a very clear improvement, but no one’s going to do that.”
Unlike sandbags, however, video games provide a structured experience with clear in-game rewards. “We’ve found that most of our patients actually do more than what we ask of them,” said Penelope McNulty, one of Smith’s coworkers. “In traditional therapy, it’s a struggle to get people to do the minimum amount. [This] is a lot of fun, so people enjoy doing it … there’s also a competitive element, which is also motivating.”
So far, Smith’s team has found the most success with Fruit Ninja for the iPad and modified Wii games. Rather than just playing through the games, McNulty and her team instruct patients to undertake specific actions and movements. This way, players perform the necessary motions for recovery while staying engaged in-game.
Since gaming technology is both cheap and readily available, Smith envisions a bright future for stroke recovery through videogames. “This is really just the beginning,” according to Smith. “We’re going to see these things get better and better.” With gaming often maligned in the mainstream media, it’s heartening to see that gaming has practical applications in both medicine and therapy.