Parkinson’s patient uses the Nintendo Wii with guidance from her occupational therapist
The games console, which simulates sport and other physical activities like dancing and guitar hero, could potentially improve symptoms of the degenerative illness, experts say.
As well as helping with coordination and reflexes – Parkinson’s impairs motor skills – medics think that the Wii has other benefits as well…such as lifting depression and increasing energy levels in patients.
Doctors at the Medical College of Georgia piloted an eight-week study where they asked 20 Parkinson’s sufferers to spend an hour the Wii three times a week for four weeks.
The patients, all in a stage of the disease where both body sides were affected, played two games each of tennis and bowling and one game of boxing Â games where bilateral movement, balance and fast pace were needed.
Dr Ben Herz, program director and assistant professor School of Allied Health Sciences Department of Occupational Therapy at the MCG, said that halfway through the study some of the patients were able to beat their opponent in the first round – proving that “Wii-hab” really does work.
“By the middle of the study, we actually had a number of people who could defeat their opponent out in the first round, which amazed us.
“The Wii allows patients to work in a virtual environment that’s safe, fun and motivational. The games require visual perception, eye-hand coordination, figure-ground relationships and sequenced movement, so it’s a huge treatment tool from an occupational therapy perspective.”
It is estimated 45 percent of Parkinson’s patients suffer from depression, though Dr. Herz said he suspects the actual figure is much higher – but that the Wii could help that too.
He said exercise and video games independently can increase the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter deficient in Parkinson’s patients that also helps improve voluntary, functional movements, which sufferers “use or lose”.
The Wii, which features simulated movements such as cracking an egg, swinging a tennis racket and throwing a bowling ball, responds to a player’s movements rather than cues from a controller, so players can do full body movements and see their progress on a screen.
Dr Herz continued: “I think we’re going to be using virtual reality and games a lot more because it provides a controlled physical environment that allows patients to participate in the activities they need or want to do.
“A patient doesn’t have to go to a bowling alley and worry about environmental problems or distractions. Game systems are the future of rehab – Wii-hab.
“About 60 percent of the study participants decided to buy a Wii for themselves – that speaks volumes for how this made them feel.”
Dr Kieran Breen, Director of Research and Development at the Parkinson’s Disease Society added: “Exercise is good for everyone, and is especially important for people with Parkinson’s, as their muscles and joints tend to get stiff and rigid.
“The benefits of exercise for depression are also well known.
“Working with a physiotherapist or occupational specialist to devise an exercise plan can help to improve coordination and balance for people with Parkinson’s.
“New ways of exercising using virtual reality can only be a good thing for everyone.”