Twenty survivors (average age 61) of mild to moderate ischemic or hemorrhagic strokes were randomized to playing recreational games (cards or Jenga, a block stacking and balancing game) or Two Nintendo Wii games, tennis or Wii Cooking Mama, which uses movements that simulate cutting a potato, peeling an onion, slicing meat and shredding cheese.
Both groups received an intensive program of eight sessions, about 60 minutes each over two weeks, initiated about two months following a stroke.
The study found no adverse effects in the Wii group, reflecting safety. There was only one reported side effect in the recreational therapy group: nausea or dizziness. The gaming group used the technology for about 364 minutes in total session time, reflecting its feasibility. The recreational therapy group's total time was 388 minutes.
Patients who played video games "achieved a better motor function, both fine and gross, manifested by improvement in speed and grip strength," Saposnik said. "But it is too early to recommend this approach generally. A larger, randomized study is needed and is underway."
"The beauty of virtual reality is that it applies the concept of repetitive tasks, high-intensity tasks and task-specific activities, that activates special neurons (called 'mirror neuron system') involved in mechanisms of cortical reorganization (brain plasticity)," said Gustavo Saposnik, M.D., M.Sc., director of the Stroke Outcomes Research Unit at the Li Ka Shing Institute. "Effective rehabilitation calls for applying these principles."
"This is the first randomized clinical study showing that virtual reality using Wii gaming technology is feasible and safe and is potentially effective in enhancing motor function following a stroke, but our study results need to be confirmed in a major clinical trial."