Computer games are helping people deal with Parkinson's

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Computer games are helping  people deal with Parkinson's
Computer games are helping people deal with Parkinson's
People with Parkinson's disease may have a new tool for improving their gait and balance: computer games.

A pilot study led by the University of California at San Francisco's School of Nursing and game developer Red Hill Studios found they helped people with Parkinson's improve walking speed, balance and stride length.

UCSF and Red Hill were the nation's first research team to receive federal funding in the burgeoning field of low-cost computerized physical therapy games. Unlike off-the-shelf computer games, these specialized games encourage scientifically tested specific physical movements to help people with functional impairments and diseases, according to investigators.

Teams from the university and the game developer collaborated to produce nine “clinically inspired” games that were designed to improve coordination in people with Parkinson's disease. Parkinson's is a chronic, progressive neuromuscular disease characterized by shaking, slowness of movement, limb and trunk rigidity. The clinical team members at UCSF focused on specific body movements and gestures that their previous research had shown to be beneficial for staving off the physical declines of Parkinson's.

The Red Hill team designed physical games, similar to Wii and Kinect games, in which subjects win points by moving their bodies in certain ways. Each game has multiple difficulty levels so that the clinical team could customize the therapeutic games for each subject's particular abilities.

“Each subject found his or her own gaming ‘sweet spot' — the spot where the physical challenge was not too hard, not too easy, just right,” said Bob Hone, creative director of Red Hill Studios and the lead principal investigator of the study. “And when subjects mastered one game level, they often moved on to harder levels for more beneficial effect. The subjects improved their game scores while improving their gait and balance.”