Children often spend too much time playing video games, but recent research shows that active video games (AVG), such as those played on a Nintendo Wii, may also serve as rehabilitation therapy for children with cerebral palsy (CP).
Seventeen children with CP took part in a research study conducted by Toronto’s Bloorview Research Institute at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital and the University of Toronto. The research team, led by Elaine Biddiss, PhD, tracked the energy, motion, and muscle activity of the children while they played Wii Bowling, Tennis, Boxing, and Dance Dance Revolution (DDR). After the data was recorded, the children completed a survey regarding their enjoyment while playing the games. The researchers then evaluated the intensity of the physical activity and the therapeutic potential of the games.
“Active video games provide a low-cost, commercially available system that can be strategically selected to address specific therapeutic goals,” stated Biddiss. “While our results did not show that AVG game play can be regarded as a replacement for more vigorous physical activity or muscle strengthening, we found that some games may provide targeted therapy focused on specific joints or movements.”
In particular, Wii Boxing and DDR, which require full body movements, provided a moderate level of physical activity for children with mild CP, but the activity was not vigorous enough to build endurance or strength. Games such as Wii Boxing are a good choice for training faster wrist movements, an important therapy for children with CP that commonly experience difficulty extending the wrists.
Children with hemiplegia, a form of cerebral palsy that affects the limbs on one side of the body, engaged both upper limbs when playing Wii Boxing and DDR. “Wii boxing, or similar games, may be an effective motivational environment for encouraging increased movement speed of the hemiplegic limb, in addition to the bilateral use of the limbs, because in-game success is strongly linked to these two metrics,” noted Biddiss.
Additional benefits to AVG play include repetitive movement and feedback provided to the player via on-screen avatars and scores. The feedback could promote neuroplastic change (the ability for the brain to reorganize and grow after disease or injury) and the high level of enjoyment reported by the participants also enhances neuroplasticity.
“While not a replacement for structured exercise and physical therapy, AVGs may encourage children with CP to be physically active and to practice complex motor activities. There are many opportunities for further research. Future development and optimization of AVG technologies may usher in a new age in physical rehabilitation where virtual environments provide an arena for neuroplastic change in the comfort of one’s home,” concluded Biddiss.