4 November 2014 11:32

Home computer games could be used as physiotherapy to help improve the lives of people with Parkinson’s Disease.

The disease is a slowly worsening neurodegenerative brain disorder which affects over 6 million people worldwide.

Muscles and joints tend to become stiff and rigid which is why exercise is helpful in managing some of the symptoms. However, physiotherapy exercises are very repetitive in nature leading to boredom and demotivation and hence lack of adherence.

Computer games have the potential to motivate people in keeping active more by implicity incorporating repetitive exercises into the games.

Researchers have been adapting and testing computer games to be used as physical therapy and they say people with Parkinson’s should be involved in the design of these games from the outset.

The research paper published in Entertainment Computing entitled “Use of Gaming Sensors and Customised ExerGames for Parkinson’s Disease Rehabilitation” is by Emmanuel Tsekleves from Lancaster University, Ioannis Paraskevopoulos and John Cosmas from Brunel University and Cathy Craig and Caroline Whyatt from Queen’s Belfast.

They used commercially available gaming sensors like the Nintendo Wii and computer games designed specifically for people with Parkinson’s Disease, which they then tested with them.

The key was in taking physiotherapy exercises and movements translating them into game play elements.

For example, one game involved the control of a two-paddled row boat, while the second, the steam mini-golf game, asked the player to rotate a vale to release steam to push a ball into a hole. Both games aimed at improving the player’s speed and arm movement, improving flexibility and reducing rigidiy.  

Participants with Parkinson’s said the rowing game was fun to play and good exercise for the upper body.

One said: “It feels as if the muscles here and here have really tightened from what we’ve been doing – it feels as if my arms are being used.”

The researchers found that more familiar games based on simple exercises worked best.

They said: “This works well for part time hobbies and activities that people with Parkinson’s used to be engaged in prior to their diagnosis, as it provides them with an enabling and creative space where past habits can be followed and reinvented.”

“We also found that the key to a successful game design is to take Parkinson’s specific physiotherapy exercises and translate them into a game.”