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Wii games help stroke patients regain lost mobility

Toronto, February 25, 2010

Peeling onions and playing tennis on Wii virtual reality videogames may help stroke patients with mild to moderate impairment regain their ability to use their arms and hands, according to a new study.

Funded by Heart and Stroke Foundation, the study is the first randomized clinical trial to show that virtual reality is a feasible, safe and potentially effective treatment of stroke. "This study takes us one step closer in understanding the potential benefits of using technology like the Wii in neurorehabilitation," says lead researcher Dr. Gustavo Saposnik, a neurologist at St. Michael's in Toronto.

Dr. Saposnik's team used Wii Sports (tennis) and Cooking Mama to see if these games could help stroke patients improve their fine motor skills. The cooking game uses movements that replicate peeling an onion, cutting a potato and shredding cheese.

The idea came to Dr. Saposnik while playing a friendly game of Wii tennis with his five-year-old daughter. At one point, she said, "This is unfair - you have more skills than me!" Being a left-handed player, Dr. Saposnik switched his virtual tennis racket to his right hand. "It was more challenging and I didn't win, but after a few games, I was improving. I realized that this could be something interesting in stroke rehab where people have lost those fine motor skills."

The basic principles of rehabilitation involves repetition. Virtual reality games provide repetitive, high-intensity tasks that work to re-activate neurons involved in the brain. "By allowing the users to interact with a simulated environment, they receive instant feedback on their performance while making practice more interesting in a safe environment."

Disclaimer: Nintendo Co., Ltd., had no involvement in this study. Neither the Heart and Stroke Foundation nor the authors endorse the use of Nintendo products in the treatment of stroke. The information contained in this article is provided for reference and education only and is not intended to be a substitute for a physician’s advice, diagnosis or treatment.