Wii Therapy

Nintendo’s Wii has turned video gaming on its head. It seems to appeal to a wider range of players than any system in history. Most of the gameplay and controls are intuitive enough that a two-year old can play with his great-grandfather. That is something that cannot be said for any of the Wii’s competitors. I’ve been trying to teach my daughter, who is not yet two, to play Xbox 360. While she still struggles with the complexity of the Xbox controller, she has almost mastered the natural gesture-driven iPhone. If I owned a Wii, she’d be dominating me already. When I close my eyes, I can hear her little voice piping, “Daddy powned!,” as she crushes me in another bout of Wii tennis, followed by her ever-courteous, “S’ok, Daddy.”

The Wii is just as popular among seniors. Water-cooler anecdotes of family style video gaming not only include Grandpa, but often cast him as the leading antagonist, besting all comers at Wii Bowling or Golf. Many assisted living facilities have a Wii and incorporate video gaming into regular activities. Most of these gamers were in their fifties when Atari debuted, and can remember decades before the invention of plastic. Interfacing with a Wii is so easy that even people who have managed to avoid digital solitaire can pick up a controller and get right to kicking ass. While the benefits of hand-eye coordination have long been known, it seems that bringing video gaming to the senior demographic has other benefits as well.

Recent research suggests that for those recovering from a stroke, playing Wii in addition to traditional therapy considerably decreases the time it takes to perform certain daily activities (a common benchmark for stroke recovery). The study involved a sample group of 22 patients, all of whom suffered a stroke of mild-to-moderate severity within the last two months. While each patient received conventional rehabilitation, half were instructed to play card and board games and half to play the two Wii titles, Cooking Mama and Tennis. Patients continued their regiments for eight one-hour sessions over the course of two weeks.

Metrics assessed through the Wolf Motor Function Test showed that only patients in the Wii group significantly improved their dexterity. Four weeks following the therapy, and after appropriate adjustments for stroke severity, age, and initial functionality, the Wii group had improved their performance on this test by an average of 7.4 seconds. The mean time prior to gaming was 29.5 seconds, resulting in an improvement of around 25%. That’s pretty astounding. Not only does playing the Wii make for good exercise, but it’s fun. This tackles another problem central to physical rehabilitation. Oftentimes a lack of motivation in patients contributes to partially completed regiments and an incomplete recovery. While the sample size is too small to be conclusive, this is reinforced by 90% of patients in the Wii group completing their eight one-hour sessions as compared to 80% in the control.

While doctors are a long way from writing a prescription for Wii therapy, this research highlights a commonsense solution for encouraging both the mental and physical sides of stroke recovery. This survey suffers from several pitfalls, however,  like its small sample size and failure to blind researchers. It has paved the way for further research, though, with trials in the planning stage set to include over a hundred participants. Should they return similar results, the future of stroke rehabilitation will likely change forever.

Full disclosure: if they start testing with online play on the Xbox 360, I’m not pulling any punches. You’ve been warned, Grandpa.


~ by Wil Finley on March 8, 2010.

One Response to “Wii Therapy”

  1. Reference upper extremity fine motor rehabilitation, it is important that a dedicated rehabilitation system like the HandTutorsystem is used. Rehabilitation using the Wii does not take into account the problem of the patient implementing a compensatory movement pattern in order to achieve the Wii task. In addition the Wii does not exercise fine motor movements.

    The Wii is a form of task specific training. One important factor in task orientated traditional training is the proprioception tactile feedback path information that the patient receives from the object during and after the task. This infomation is missing from the Wii and other from more expensive virtual reality systems. This task orientated feedback ensures that the patient learns to correct their movement pattern planning and implementation again ensuring that a compensatory movement pattern does not result.

    Training with the HandTutor works on all motor and sensory movement impairments and provides active isolated and interjoint finger and wrist movement practice. The HandTutor is a rehabilitation glove and software which offers impairment oriented training and augmented feedback. The HandTutor encourages active repetitive customized isolated or inter joint coordinated finger and wrist hand exercises and rehabilitates fine movements of the hand and wrist.

    On a practical treatment aspect, many patients do not have sufficient movement ability to enable them to do repetitive active tasks or the active tasks can not be customized to work on their specific motor, sensory or cognitive impairment.

    Upper extremity hand rehabilitation using the HandTutor will ensure that the patient improves fine motor functional ability which is essential for completing upper extremity/ limb Active Daily Living tasks.

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