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Wii Video Games Help Recovering Stroke Patients


Wii™ video games are not just for fun and exercise; they have therapeutic value as well. A study presented at the American Stroke Association’s (ASA) International Stroke Conference notes that virtual reality game technology using Wii may help recovering stroke patients improve their muscle function.

More than 600,000 new strokes are reported each year in the United States, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). The ASA notes that stroke is the third leading cause of death and a major cause of debilitating, long-term disability. Therefore any new therapeutic approach that helps reduce the impact of stroke on physical function is of great interest to clinicians, patients, and their families.

The effects of a stroke depend on the location of the obstruction in the brain and how much brain tissue is affected. If the stroke occurs in the brain’s right side, the left side of the body (and the right side of the face) are affected, which can result in vision problems, memory loss, and paralysis on the left side of the body. If the stroke occurs in the left side of the brain, the right side of the body will be impacted, resulting in speech/language problems, memory loss, slow behavioral style, and paralysis on the right side of the body.

A new study conducted at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute at the University of Toronto, Canada, is the first randomized clinical study to show that virtual reality games using Wii technology is a safe, feasible, and potentially effective way to improve motor function in people who have suffered a stroke. The pilot study was headed by Gustavo Saposnik, MD, MSc, director of the Stroke Outcomes Research Unit at the Li Ka Shing Institute, St. Michael’s Hospital.

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A total of 20 patients who had suffered a mild to moderate ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke (average age, 61 years) were randomly assigned to play recreational games (e.g., cards or a block balancing game) or Wii tennis and Wii Cooking Mama. The latter game involves cooking movements, such as peeling an onion, slicing meat, or cutting a potato. In both groups the focus was on both small and large muscle function.

Both groups participated in eight sessions, each lasting 60 minutes, over a two-week period. The study was initiated about two months after the patients suffered their stroke. Patients in the Wii group used the games for about 364 minutes overall, which illustrated its feasibility. Patients in the recreational therapy group spent a total of 388 minutes at their activities.

According to Saposnik, the activities associated with the virtual reality games are the same ones utilized by effective rehabilitation techniques: repetitive tasks, high-intensity tasks, and task-specific activities, all of which activate special neurons in the brain.

Patients who participated in Wii video games had significant motor improvement in motor function, illustrated by an improvement in grip strength and speed. Although the results of this study were promising, Saposnik believes a larger, randomized study should be conducted before use of Wii video gaming should be recommended generally for stroke patients.

American Stroke Association
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke