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Playing computer games can aid Parkinson’s sufferers, new research shows

New research shows that 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.

An in depth study with Parkinson’s sufferers at Lancaster University found that video games involving the movement of players acted as a form of physical therapy.

Games similar to those on the Nintendo Wii, or Xbox 360′s Kinect, were found to aid symptoms of those taking part in the study.

Dr Emmanuel Tsekleves, a Senior Lecturer in design interactions at Lancaster University, said: “Muscles and joints tend to become stiff and rigid, which is why exercise is crucial 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 to keep active by implicitly incorporating repetitive exercises into the games.”

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

Dr Tsekleves explained that: “Our research involved participants with Parkinson’s using commercially available gaming sensors like the Nintendo Wii and computer games designed specifically for people with Parkinson’s disease.

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

He added: “The games help at improving the player’s speed and arm movement, improving flexibility and reducing rigidity. One involved the control of a two-paddled row boat, while the second, the steam mini-golf game, asked the player to rotate a valve to release steam to push a ball into a hole.”

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

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

The researchers, who also included Ioannis Paraskevopoulos and John Cosmas from Brunel University; and Cathy Craig and Caroline Whyatt from Queen’s Belfast, found that the more familiar games based on simple exercises worked best.

Dr Tsekleves said: “This technique works well as it involves activities that many people with Parkinson’s used to engaged in prior to their diagnosis. 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.”

The research paper, entitled ‘Use of Gaming Sensors and Customised ExerGames for Parkinson’s Disease Rehabilitation’, is published in Entertainment Computing.


Design guidelines for developing customised serious games for Parkinson’s Disease rehabilitation using bespoke game sensors, Ioannis Theoklitos Paraskevopoulosa, Emmanuel Tseklevesb, Cathy Craigc, Caroline Whyattc, John Cosmasd, Entertainment Computing, doi:10.1016/j.entcom.2014.10.006, published online 17 October 2014.

Source: Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Lancaster University