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Can video games help with cerebral palsy?

Published in BMJ Open, researchers recently examined the therapeutic potential of Nintendo’s Wii Fit in managing cerebral palsy.

Cerebral palsy is a condition that impairs motor coordination and voluntary movements. Interventions currently at use to manage this condition only benefit children who do not have the ability to walk. As a result, the treatment is not suitable for older children and teenagers. However, Chiu and colleagues suggest a promising future for cerebral palsy treatment in the gaming industry. In the 2017 study published in the BMJ Open, Chiu seeks to find therapeutic potential in Nintendo’s Wii Fit by assessing its feasibility and effectivity in treating cerebral palsy.

The 44 participants were children diagnosed with cerebral palsy before five years of age and were at the time of the study between the ages of 5 and 13 years old. They were also classified under the I, II, and III levels of Gross Motor Function Classification System (GMFCS). For eight weeks, they played Wii Fit for 20 minutes three times a week. The research team conducted a survey to determine whether the proposed treatment is able to accommodate as many patients as possible, whether patients will adhere to the treatment, and if it is safe for their use. The clinical measures that they looked at involved strength of knee muscles, balance, walking, and participation.

High satisfaction rates among children and their parents

Of the 44 participants, 20 participants were allowed to try the treatment. The remaining 22 participants were excluded because the children were at the IV or V level of GMFCS. The researchers also noted that children diagnosed under the III GMFCS level were unable to perform all the games without support, demanding a less challenging games for children at such a classification. In this study, children and parents rated high satisfaction in using the Wii Fit with a high adherence rate. With regards to the safety of the game, 40% had non-injurious falls during training, five fell one to two many times and three fell more than three times.

Significant improvements in limb strength and walking

In the balance test, which was a one-legged stance test, only five of the 20 participants could perform the test adequately, which is similar to previous studies. The researchers then propose that it is best to use walking as a measure of balance. Despite having no improvements in balance, the researchers noted significant improvements in all measures of limb strength and in all three measures of walking, indicating potential benefits in children with cerebral palsy.

A majority of the sessions were unsupervised

Despite suggesting promising avenues for Wii Fit’s therapeutic value, one of the limits of the study is having a majority (67%) of the sessions unsupervised. Another limit of the study is that it constrains the effects of the treatment on a small range. This means that the Wii Fit, as it was used in this study, only helped certain individuals with a specific range of diagnoses and potentially help only for a limited time before it becomes impractical. However, the results of these study do warrant further consideration in a more controlled setting, promising that there may be additional unlocked achievements in games like Wii Fit.

Written by Michael Cruz, Hons. BSc

Reference: Chiu, H. C., Ada, L., & Lee, S. D. (2018). Balance and mobility training at home using Wii Fit in children with cerebral palsy: a feasibility study. BMJ Open, 8(5), e019624.



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