PlayStation Video Game Improves Hand Function of Children with Cerebral Palsy

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Engineers at Rutgers University have modified a Sony PlayStation 3 and a commercial gaming glove with custom-developed software to help children with cerebral palsy improve hand functions. The pilot study helped three teens improve their ability to perform daily personal and household activities.

Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that can improve brain and nervous system functions such as movement, learning, hearing, seeing, and thinking. Symptoms, which range from mild or severe, are usually seen before a child is 2 years old. These include tight muscles that cannot stretch, muscle weakness that can affect arms and legs, loss of coordination, abnormal movements and tremors. There is no cure for cerebral palsy. The goal of treatment is to help the person be as independent as possible.

The engineers, part of the university’s Tele-Rehabilitation Institute, worked with clinicians at the Indiana University School of Medicine to put the gaming system in the participants’ homes for up to 10 months. The participants were asked to exercise their affected hand for 30 minutes a day, five days a week using the game. Each system communicated via the Internet to allow the researchers to oversee the teens’ exercise routines and to evaluate the effectiveness of the systems.

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The system combined a PlayStation 3 console with a Fifth Dimension Technologies 5 Ultra sensing glove, a flat-panel television, mouse, keyboard, and digital subscriber line modem. One game promoted range of finger motion by asking participants to clean up bars of “dirty” pixels on the screen to reveal and image. Another also promoted finger movement by asking participants to flick away an on-screen butterfly. The third game promoted hand opening and closing speed by asking participants to manipulate an unidentified flying object.

After three months of therapy, two participants progressed from being unable to lift large, heavy objects to being able to do so. One was able to open a heavy door. All teens showed varying improvement in daily activities such as brushing teeth, grooming, dressing, and using a spoon to eat.

The gaming system created by the engineers is an example of virtual rehabilitation, where patients interact with computer-generated visual environments to perform exercises. It also involves tele-rehabilitation, where the patients perform exercises under remote supervision by physical or occupational therapists.

"Systems like this have the potential for widespread deployment in outpatient clinics or the homes of people needing rehabilitation services for any number of illnesses or injuries," said Grigore Burdea, professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of the Rutger Tele-Rehabilitation Institute. "Well-designed custom games are likely to hold patients' attention and motivate them to complete their exercises, versus conventional therapy regimens, which patients may find boring or tedious."

Journal Reference:
Huber, M. Rabin, B. Docan, C. Burdea, G. C. Abdelbaky, M. Golomb, M. R. Feasibility of Modified Remotely Monitored In-Home Gaming Technology for Improving Hand Function in Adolescents With Cerebral Palsy. IEEE Transactions on Information Technology in Biomedicine, 2010; 14 (2): 526-534 DOI: 10.1109/TITB.2009.2038995

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