Healthy Living

Nintendo Wii May Be Used to Help Parkinson's Patients

Nintendo Wii May Be Used to Help Parkinson's Patients

Nintendo Wii is a gaming platform that has many doctors, researchers, and scientists curious about. In fact, there have been a few studies that have looked into treatment for Parkinson’s disease with Nintendo Wii. Parkinson’s disease is a long-term neurological disorder that affects many later in life. It stems from the low production of dopamine, so movement and speech can be affected.

Not only is the Wii a gaming platform that is available and enjoyed by people of all ages, most of its game focus in on movement and coordination. Even a patient playing Mario Kart would be getting their daily dose of movement from the sensory controls the Wii has to offer.

Because the games from Wii need visual perception, coordination of the eyes and hands, figure-ground relationships, and movements that are sequenced from the player, it is a treatment approach for Parkinson’s disease that is hard to ignore. Many studies and researches back this up, so there is a large potential for this gaming platform that many probably did not even think of.

Dr. Ben Herz’ Study (Medical College of Georgia)

A medical research has been done at the Medical College of Georgia by Dr. Ben Herz, who is the program director and associate professor in the Department of Occupation Therapy, School of Allied Health Sciences from the same institution. During the study that lasted 8 weeks, they found out that Nintendo Wii improved the condition of Parkinson’s disease patients who have motor skills issues such as coordination and reflexes.  

All the patients who were part of the study have both sides of their body affected by Parkinson’s disease without any serious effect with their treading. The participants in this study played Wii three times a week for 45 to 60 minutes. The patients played boxing, tennis, and bowling. The games were done by the patients so that they can do movements bilaterally, balance, move at a fast speed, and exercise all at the same time.

The Results?

The results focused more on the movements done, flexibility, motor skills, and levels of energy of the participants. A curve in learning was made, and it showed that throughout the study, the participants accomplished the games around 20 to 30 minutes. In addition, in the middle of the study, most of them won the first round of the boxing game. They were also permitted to choose what game they want to continue playing. Most of them did not prefer to play boxing.

Aside from improving movement, the result also showed that the levels of depression dipped to zero. Based on statistics, around 45% of the patients who have Parkinson’s disease go through depression. Games that promote cardio and other exercises are beneficial to them. Dr. Herz believes that gaming consoles such as Wii are the future in rehabilitating patients.

The dopamine levels of these patients are 70% to 80% lower, so playing Wii can stimulate the production of this neurotransmitter. Playing also gives excitement to them since they want to win the game. Moreover, the patients do productive activities to slow down the advancement of the disease and lessen the medication taken. His team used Nintendo Wii due to physical interaction needed from the participants to play the game.

Based on the studies conducted by Dr. Herz, short-term effects can be experienced by the patients. However, if they stopped playing for a month, motor abilities might worsen. Patients who want to try this treatment method have to be careful as to how long they play it. According to him, 1 patient played for 3 hours, which is a deviation from the 45 to 60 minutes requirement of playing. It resulted in the patient experiencing pain. People with multiple sclerosis may also gain from Wii because it can make movements better.

Jessica Huber & Jeff Haddad’s Study (Purdue University)

Jessica Huber and Jeff Haddad, Professors from Purdue University, used Nintendo Wii as a treatment for people with Parkinson’s. They particularly studied how games from this console help patients suffering from Parkinson’s and utilized various Wii products such as balance board peripheral and Wii-motes. Moreover, the gadgets were used to check the connection between the activity of the brain and movement of the body. Their study showed that playing Wii games help refine movement, speech, and life in general.

The Results?

Their research showed that some games that are design specific resulted to better gait and equilibrium as compared to other treatment methods used for Parkinson’s. Huber who is an expert in language, speech, and hearing supports these claims. Normally, people tend to pause at the right time. For people with Parkinson’s, they pause at undefined locations. These patients showed progression in pausing when speaking. Huber said that continuous treatment at home is necessary.

Antonella Peppe (Fondazione Santa Lucia, Rome)

Antonella Peppe, who is a research professor from the Fondazione Santa Lucia in Rome, said that balancing problems experienced by Parkinson’s disease patients can be resolved with the capacity of the Wii Balance Board to excite the central nervous system. She discussed the pilot results of the study at the yearly International Congress on Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders. She also mentioned that it is a tool worth comparing for with other equipment used for rehabilitating patients with this degenerative disease.

The patients in this study were 63 years old in average. At the age of 51, they were diagnosed with the disease. In addition, they only took levodopa, which is a drug for their medication.

She utilized the Tinetti balance test and the Unified Parkinson's Disease Rating Scale. The Tinetti test is an instrument used to assess the balance and gait of old people while Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale is a comprehensive questionnaire containing 50 questions related with movements, which are motor and non-motor that are connected with Parkinson’s.

The Results?

With the Tinetti test, the researchers discovered that patients who exercised for 1 hour (20 minutes using a treadmill, 20 minutes doing cycling exercises, and 20 minutes playing 3 games on Wii) showed improvement in balance and gait. Their scores also improved from the test and other tests such as the Parkinson’s Disease Questionnaire-39, the Global Mobility Task and the Six-Minute Walk Test. There is a notable decrease in falling, increased ability in doing different activities, and better stability.

Dr. Jennifer Trilk, who is a clinical assistant professor of biomedical sciences at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, showed interest in this study and stated that this kind of approach could be possibly added to the management of Parkinson’s.

Karen Rose's Experience

Instead of sulking, Karen Rose put an effort in staying healthy when she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. She learned that exercising can do wonders with muscle strength, balance, and coordination associated with this health condition. When her symptoms became worse, she found it difficult for she enjoyed various active exercises such as cycling and doing aerobics.  She then decided to purchase a Nintendo Wii.

She joined a group who took the survey for Parkinson’s UK that had members playing Wii to relieve the symptoms. The findings from this study were outstanding, so the group will begin a more thorough study soon.

She used Wii Fit 3 to 4 times every week, and she saw the positive effects on her balance. In addition, her muscles became loose and flexible. She added that the comments given from Wii helped her improve her regimen. She mainly worked on the right side of her body, and now she concentrates on the weakness of her muscles and her exercise program.