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Video Games and Multiple Sclerosis, More Than Fun?

video games and multiple sclerosis

Playing video games can be more than fun; it can be a therapeutic experience for people who live with multiple sclerosis. Several studies have explored the value of video games for managing multiple sclerosis symptoms, and more research is in the works. What’s the scoop?


Recently it was announced that the National Multiple Sclerosis Society has given a grant (NMSS Pilot Research Grant) to a research team at Ohio State University to develop and test a video game for individuals with multiple sclerosis. Originally the game, called Recovery Rapids, had been programmed for individuals with stroke to improve impairment to their upper extremities.

One of the game’s advantages is that it provides the type of hand and arm actions typically used in MS physical therapy sessions in clinics called constraint-induced movement therapy. In this case, however, patients can enjoy a video game in which they maneuver a kayak through various obstacles, and they could enjoy these challenges in their own homes using a Microsoft Xbox Kinect body action sensor.

While this new one-year study is about to get underway, it is not the first time video games have been evaluated for use in multiple sclerosis. Among the numerous studies are several of the most recent ones noted below.

Video games for multiple sclerosis

A Swedish study involved 15 individuals with multiple sclerosis who were tested using Nintendo Wii Fit™ to see how it would affect their balance. The researchers also questioned the participants’ physiotherapists concerning the results.

The patients participated in 12 sessions, each lasting 30 minutes, twice a week, and they were supervised by physiotherapists. All of the video games chosen were from the Wii Fit™ Plus Balance Training or Training+. The games were designed to get progressively more difficult after someone reaches a certain score.

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  • The patients and the physiotherapists reported that the video games were not only fun but that the individuals felt motivated to play
  • Balance, walking, and body control all improved
  • Some of the games also demanded cognitive activities, such as counting while performing physically, and patients said they liked the challenge
  • The patients felt the video games could serve as home therapy
  • According to the authors, “All patients in our study expressed the opinion that playing video games was a fun alternative to traditional balance training and the training time went quickly.”

Another advantage of video games for multiple sclerosis is that they can involve the entire family. Therefore, while someone with MS may not be able to go canoeing or skiing with others, they have an opportunity to share similar experiences when using a video game and to get some physical exercise.

A study conducted at Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute involved 30 adults with multiple sclerosis who used a Nintendo Wii Fit home exercise program for 14 weeks. The participants said that playing the video games helped improve their self-confidence in their abilities and they were grateful for being able to do exercise at home rather than go to a gym.

A drawback, however, was that the patients initially had some concerns about falling and not performing well. This study pointed out that it is important to choose video games that are appropriate for the different levels of function of the participants.

In yet another study, 50 people with multiple sclerosis were assigned to participate in either physiotherapy treatment twice a week for 40 minutes per session or telerehabilitation treatment using the Xbox 360 for 40 sessions, four sessions weekly at 20 minutes per session. The length of the study was 10 weeks.

At the end of the study, balance improved in both groups. The authors concluded that the virtual reality video game program “might serve as a successful therapeutic alternative in situations in which conventional therapy is not readily available.”

In person or via teleconference/virtual reality, the results of several studies of video games for multiple sclerosis indicate that they are a viable therapy option. With the help of physical or occupational therapists and healthcare providers, individuals with multiple sclerosis may be able to choose appropriate games and enjoy therapy sessions at home.

Forsberg A et al. Perceptions of using video games in rehabilitation: a dual perspective of people with multiple sclerosis and physiotherapists. Disability and Rehabilitation 2014 May 16: 1-7
Gutierrez RO et al. A telerehabilitation program by virtual reality-video games improves balance and postural control in multiple sclerosis patients. NeuroRehabilitation 2013; 33(4): 545-54
Multiple Sclerosis News Today
Plow M, Finlayson M. A qualitative study exploring the usability of Nintendo Wii Fit among persons with multiple sclerosis. Occupational Therapy International 2014 Mar; 21(1): 21-32