Researchers from Purdue University, Indiana University, and the University of Calgary have developed and are testing a set of video games to help improve the everyday lives of people with Parkinson’s disease. The team relied on a Nintendo Wii video game platform coupled with the Wii Balance Board to run games in which a player moves a smiley face toward different targets on the screen.
The person playing stands on the Wii Balance Board and shifts his or her weight to make the smiley face move in the desired direction. In one game, each time a new challenge is presented, the smiley face changes to the color of the target’s name that it should be moved toward. The targets are named “yellow,” “blue,” “green,” or “red,” but actually appear in a different color than their name would imply. The user has to target the correct name, not the actual color of the target. So if a smiley face is blue, it has to be dragged to the target named “blue,” even though the target may appear red.
The combination of using balance to move the smiley face while also thinking of which is the correct target forces the brain to perform multiple tasks at once. The researchers compare this to how we perform every day tasks, such as reaching for and selecting something on a book shelf. The simultaneous combination of tasks also helps to study how physical movements are related to brain activity.
To evaluate the new games, the team assessed their benefit on a small group of Parkinson’s patients, as well as healthy adult volunteers. The results demonstrated that if the games were used on a regular basis, they improved the Parkinson’s patients’ overall balance and gait substantially more than commonly used Parkinson’s therapies. Moreover, the patients’ speaking abilities also improved as measured by how frequently and when pauses were taken during conversations.
The team hopes that Parkinson’s patients will soon be able to simply get a CD with a Wii game prescribed to them, which they can pop into their at-home Wii, get on the Wii Balance Board, and do their rehab in the comfort and privacy of home.
Here’s a short video with the researchers showing off the new games: