NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Video games are hot items on Christmas lists this and every year, but not just for kids – the majority of gamers are now over 36.
And as CBS 2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported Tuesday, video games are for more than just recreation. They are now revolutionizing rehabilitation and physical therapy.
After suffering a stroke, Nancy Henckle lost much of the use of her right hand.
To make matters worse, she never underwent rehabilitation, and now often struggles with everyday routines.
But in a period of just one week, that has all changed.
“Oh my gosh,” Henckle said. “I noticed I went to the grocery yesterday. I reached up — I could get things. It’s like it’s become unfrozen.”
What made such a difference for Henckle was a video game. Using a common game console, researchers developed an uncommon approach to rehab.
First, on the affected hand, they put a glove with sensors to control the game. On the other is a mitt that prevents patients from using their healthy hand.
“This really promotes the person to use their affected side for all their daily activities, so it really can be conceptualized as ‘boot camp’ for the affected arm,” said Dr. Lynne Gauthier, Ph.D. of the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Gauthier and a multi-disciplinary team designed the game at the medical center, using what is known as constraint-induced movement therapy.
The researchers have concluded that constraining a patient’s healthy limb during rehab has proven more effective than regular therapy.
“Much more effective, and it promotes long-term gains in motor functioning. It’s just not available,” Gauthier said. “Less than 1 percent of patients are actually able to receive it.”
But with the video game, Gauthier is taking the innovation to the patients. And in the comfort of their own homes, the patients have seen results.
In early tests, they averaged a staggering 1,500 movements per hour – often without realizing it.
“We always ask them ‘how long do you think you’ve played?’ And participants will say, ‘Oh, you know, maybe 10 minutes,’” Gauthier said. “And some of them have played 40 minutes at that point.”
Experts said there have been other games developed to help patients with rehab, but this may be the first designed by therapists with the input of their patients.
During the game, patients have to paddle a canoe down a river while picking up litter out of the water and fending off bats in a cave.
As their performance improves, the game gets harder.
Therapists hope to market the game to the public in the coming year.
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