Each game has multiple difficulty
levels; © UCSF
Playing computer-based physical therapy games can help people with Parkinson's disease improve their gait and balance, according to a new pilot study led by the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) School of Nursing and Red Hill Studios, a California serious games developer.
More than half the subjects in the three-month research project showed small improvements in walking speed, balance and stride length. UCSF and Red Hill were the first research team in the United States to receive federal funding in the burgeoning field of low-cost computerised physical therapy games. Unlike off-the-shelf computer games, these specialised games encourage scientifically tested specific physical movements to help people with functional impairments and diseases.
Teams at Red Hill and UCSF collaborated to produce nine "clinically inspired'' games that were designed to improve coordination in people with Parkinson's disease, a chronic, progressive neuromuscular disease characterised 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 UCSF team was led by Glenna Dowling and Marsha Melnick. The Red Hill team then 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 customise the therapeutic games for each subject's particular abilities.
Red Hill developed a custom sensor suit with nine tracking sensors to analyse subjects' movements with higher resolution and accuracy than is possible with consumer gaming platforms. The PC-based system sent encrypted data to a secure database allowing the research teams to track the subjects' performance daily.
The trial involved 20 participants in northern California with moderate levels of Parkinson's disease. After playing the games for 12 weeks, 65 per cent of game players demonstrated longer stride length, 55 per cent increased gait velocity, and 55 per cent reported improved balance confidence.
"These initial studies show the promise of custom-designed physical therapy games promoting specific movements and gestures that can help patients get better,'' Dowling said. "Now that we have this preliminary positive result, we want to conduct a longer term clinical trial with more subjects to confirm these initial findings.''
REHACARE.de; Source: University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)