Game Your Way to Parkinson's Improvements

Parkinsons patients improve balance and gait with games

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Taking steps to improve balance and gait when suffering from Parkinson's disease doesn't have to be boring.  Playing physically active video games can be a fun way to reduce the physical declines of the disease.

Playing physical games similar to Wii or Kinect games can aid Parkinson's patients in improving walking speed, stride length and even balance, a pilot study from the University of California San Francisco and game developer Red Hill Studios has shown.

"Ask your doctor if video games could aid your Parkinson's symptoms."

Study leaders Glenna Dowling, professor and chair of the UCSF department of physiological nursing, and Marsha Melnick, a clinical professor in the UCSF School of Medicine's department of physical therapy and rehabilitation science and professor emerita of the department of physical therapy at San Francisco State University, found that the specialized physical therapy games encouraged scientifically tested physical movements to aid patients with functional impairments.

During the study, 20 patients with moderate levels of Parkinson's disease who resided in northern California were enrolled. The participants were asked to play the games for three times a week for 12 weeks.

Patients played the nine clinically inspired video games developed by Red Hill Studios to improve movements and gestures while wearing a custom sensor suit with nine tracking sensors to analyze movements at a higher level that available video game systems. Data was tracked through the PC-based system.

While playing the games, participants could win points by moving their bodies certain ways. Each game had multiple levels of difficulty so that the therapy could be customized for each patient.

Researchers found that 65 percent demonstrated longer stride length, 55 percent increased the velocity of their gait and 55 percent reported improved balance.

Bob Hone, creative director of Red Hill Studios and the lead principal investigator of the study, said that each patient was able to find a gaming "sweet spot," where the gaming challenges were neither too easy or too difficult.

He said that it was apparent from the tracking data that some participants were even playing the games more often than the specified three times per week. Because of the structure of the study, they were asked to play less, Hone said.

Dowling said after the preliminary positive result researchers plan to conduct a longer term clinical trial with a larger number of participants to confirm the initial findings.

The research, which was funded by two Small Business Innovative Research grants totaling $1.1 million from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke – part of the National Institutes of Health, has not yet been published.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 24, 2011
Last Updated:
October 26, 2011