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Virtual Reality Games Help Stroke Patients Recover Motor Functions

A new study sug­gests that vir­tu­al real­i­ty and oth­er video games involv­ing motion can enhance motor improve­ment after a stroke. The improve­ment seems to be greater than the one observed with tra­di­tion­al ther­a­py.

This result is quite promis­ing since 55 to 75% of stroke sur­vivors expe­ri­ence motor prob­lem in their arms.

The study was a meta-analy­sis that looked at 12 pre­vi­ous­ly pub­lished stud­ies, for a total of 195 patients. Most were obser­va­tion­al stud­ies in which the patients used a vari­ety of vir­tu­al (e.g., Wii) and non-vir­tu­al  (e.g., Glasstron) games dur­ing ther­a­py. In the 5 ran­dom­ized stud­ies, a group of patients was assigned to stan­dard ther­a­py and anoth­er to vir­tu­al real­i­ty ther­a­py. Patients in vir­tu­al real­i­ty ther­a­py had 4.89 times high­er chance of improve­ment in motor strength com­pared to patients in stan­dard ther­a­py.

Why would vir­tu­al real­i­ty ther­a­py be more effi­cient?

It seems that vir­tu­al real­i­ty ther­a­py stim­u­lates neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty more than stan­dard ther­a­py. As you know neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty is the brain’s abil­i­ty to change accord­ing to our expe­ri­ences. After an injury the brain shows neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty by cre­at­ing new nerve cells and/or con­nec­tions between these. Neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty in a spe­cif­ic brain area is trig­gered by reg­u­lar stim­u­la­tion of that area via an activ­i­ty that involves the func­tion the area sup­ports. The more the activ­i­ty is chal­leng­ing, task-spe­cif­ic and nov­el the more neu­ro­plas­tic changes are like­ly to hap­pen.  It seems that vir­tu­al real­i­ty games pos­sess these char­ac­ter­is­tics and more so that tra­di­tion­al ther­a­py.

Vir­tu­al real­i­ty gam­ing ther­a­py may thus be a non-expen­sive, fun, moti­vat­ing and effi­cient alter­na­tive to help stroke patients recov­er motor strength.

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  1. Games have even used before in med­ical treat­ment of men­tal­ly ill patients, its good to know med­ical experts are find­ing new and in-con­ven­tion­al ways in treat­ing med­ical con­di­tions

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