Hey kids -- get mom to read this!
By Megan Jones
Active video games like Wii Fit may have physical benefits that play a role in rehab for kids with cerebral palsy, according to a study published online in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
Seventeen children participated in the pilot study, and were observed as they played four games: Wii Bowling, Wii Tennis, Wii Boxing and Dance Dance Revolution. During play, researchers monitored and documented the kids’ motion, energy and level of muscular activity. After playing the games, participants filled out a survey about their level of enjoyment.
Researchers used this data to evaluate the potential therapeutic benefits of the video games. They found that while the games couldn’t replace more vigorous or formal exercise, they were effective in providing enjoyable therapy focused on specific joints and movements.
In children with one-sided weakness for example, Wii Fit acted as a fun way to exercise and strengthen weaker limbs. The games also relied heavily on fast wrist movements. Many children with cerebral palsy have difficulty extending their wrists, and continuous, quick, wrist muscle use could help to improve this.
Elaine Biddiss, a scientist at Holland Bloorview and the study’s lead investigator, says it's worth looking at the role of technology in rehab because it can help to engage children. She believes video games in particular can improve kids’ participation.
“Video games incorporate a lot of the characteristics we would like to see in physical therapy and motor- learning programs,” Elaine says.
“Kids are rewarded with points, there’s feedback provided so they see how well they’re doing in the games, and you can change the level of difficulty.”
Most importantly, Elaine says, children have fun.
“It’s something that kids would be willing to do in the home, whereas practising traditional exercises might be laborious,” she explains.
Although the study’s findings were promising, Elaine says that using the Wii system did present the team with challenges.
Some children found ways to “cheat,” as the sensor in the Wii remote couldn’t tell the difference between a small wrist flick and a full arm movement. Kids sometimes made smaller movements, using less physical effort, but still achieved success in the games.
As a result, Elaine recommends that parents monitor their children’s play. She also suggests they encourage kids to put the same degree of movement into the virtual games as they would in real-life sports.
Finally, parents should discuss the way their child is using the system with therapists to ensure that the games are being played therapeutically.
Elaine says she and her current team see the pilot study as a starting point, and she hopes that further research and technological development will lead to more effective gaming systems.
“The Wii is not the tool that’s going to provide the best quality therapy,” she says. “But based on the success of this study, we’re working on developing better games and systems that are targeted towards therapy.”
The team is looking into the use of camera-based systems, which would be harder to cheat with. They're also hoping to design games which would allow therapists to tailor goals for individual children.
“We’re still a ways away, but we’re hoping that these games will maximize the potential of low-cost technology that can be used in the home,” Elaine says.