A Secret To Fighting Parkinson's Disease? Play A Video Game

Video games might be the key to fighting off some of the debilitating symptoms of Parkinson's Disease, according to research results released this week.

The pilot study, conducted by the UCSF School of Nursing and Red Hill Studios, helped more than half of the people with the disease who participated improve their balance, walking speed and stride length.

The computer games were created specifically to augment physical therapy designed at helping Parkinson's patients and were funded by a $900,000 federal grant. The team described the games as something similar to what you might see on the Wii or Xbox 360's Kinect. The games award points for matching or following specific movements and has multiple difficulty levels which can be customized to a particular patient's abilities.

"Each subject found his or her own gaming 'sweet spot' - the spot where the physical challenge was not too hard, not too easy, just right,'' said Bob Hone, creative director of Red Hill Studios and the lead Principal Investigator of the study. "And when subjects mastered one game level, they often moved on to harder levels for more beneficial effect. The subjects improved their games scores while improving their gait and balance.''

While the games do sound an awful lot like some off-the shelf titles already available for the PS3, Wii and Xbox 360, these games required patients to wear a custom sensor suit with nine tracking sensors. Red Hill, which developed the game, said that current game technology doesn't track movement at the resolution and accuracy that the system needs to be effective.

The three month trial tracked the stride length, gait velocity and balance of 20 people with moderate levels of Parkinson's disease.

"These initial studies show the promise of custom-designed physical therapy games promoting specific movements and gestures that can help patients get better,'' Dowling said. "Now that we have this preliminary positive result, we want to conduct a longer term clinical trial with more subjects to confirm these initial findings.''


You can contact Brian Crecente, the author of this post, at brian@kotaku.com. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and lurking around our #tips page.