New Video Game Helps People With Physical Therapy

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Millions of kids got video games this Christmas, but kids aren’t the only ones playing.

A majority of gamers are now over the age of 36. And now video games are making their way into health care facilities and nursing homes.

After suffering a stroke, Nancy Henckle lost much of the use of her right hand. To make matters worse, she never got rehab and often struggles with everyday routines. But in just one week, that’s changed.

“Oh my gosh,” she said. “I noticed I went to the grocery yesterday, I reached up, I could get things. It’s like it’s become unfrozen.”

What made such a difference for Nancy was the video game. Using a common game console, researchers developed an uncommon approach to rehab. First, on the affected hand, they put a glove with sensors to control the game. On the other hand is a mitt that prevents patients from using their healthy hand.

“This really promotes the person to use their affected side for all their daily activities,” said Lynne Gauthier of Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center. “So, it really can be conceptualized as ‘boot camp’ for the affected arm.”

Gauthier and a team designed the game at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, using what’s known as a constraint-induced movement therapy. Constraining a patient’s healthy limb during rehab has proven more effective than regular therapy.

“Much more effective,” she said, “and it promotes long-term gains in motor functioning, it’s just not available. Less than 1 percent of patients are actually able to receive it.”

So with this video game, she is taking it to them. And in the comfort of their own homes, patients are seeing results. In early tests, they averaged a staggering 1,500 movements an hour – often without realizing it.

“We always ask them ‘How long do you think you’ve played?’” said Gauthier. “And participants will say ‘Oh, you know, maybe 10 minutes.’ And some of them have played 40 minutes at that point.”

It’s all thanks to a type of rehab that isn’t just sweat and tears, but fun and games.

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