Between 55 and 75 percent of stroke survivors experience motor problems in their arm. Yet conventional therapy – physiotherapy and occupational therapy – provide only “modest and sometimes delayed effects”.
Virtual reality and other video games can significantly improve motor function in stroke patients, according to research released this week by St. Michael’s Hospital in Ontario. Patients who played video games, such as Wii and Playstation, were up to five times more likely to show improvements compared to those who had standard therapy.
“Virtual reality gaming is a promising and potentially useful alternative to enhance motor improvement after stroke,” said Dr. Gustavo Saposnik, the lead author of the study and the director of the Stroke Outcomes Research Unit at the hospital. “It provides an affordable, enjoyable and effective alternative that intensifies recovery after a stroke.”
The study, published in the April edition of Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association, reviewed 12 existing studies that looked at the effects of electronic games on upper arm strength and mobility.
“Recovery of motor skill depends on neurological recovery, adaptation, and learning new strategies,” Saposnik said. “Virtual reality systems drive neuroplasticity and lead to benefits in motor function improvement after stroke.”
Most of the studies Saposnik looked at included patients who had mild to moderate strokes. He said further research is needed to determine the effects of video games on treatment for more severe cases.