Two studies from Neuroscience Research Australia using "Wii-based Movement Therapy" on stroke patients have revealed extraordinary results.
Not only does playing Wii actually restore upper limb mobility, but it also improves lower limb movement and cardiovascular health.
Both studies compared Wii-based Movement Therapy (or WMT) with modified Constraint-induced Movement Therapy (mCMIT) and found that WMT is, well, better. CMIT is currently considered best-practice in stroke rehabilitation, but the results from these studies suggest that WMT is just as effective, and at six months into the treatment show better lifestyle outcomes.
Stroke is one of the leading causes of disability in Australia, with almost 440,000 people living with the after-effects. This is predicted to increase to 709,000 in 2032. Sixty-five per cent of those living with stroke also suffer a disability that means they can't carry out daily living activities without help.
Sedentary behaviour is common after a person has suffered a stroke, with cardiovascular fitness typically around half that of healthy people of a similar age. Poor cardiovascular fitness puts them at risk of another stroke. It's actually the reason for 19 per cent of stroke readmissions.
Most post-stroke therapies focus on regaining walking ability, which is important not only for mobility but to avoid social isolation and depression associated with the loss of mobility. While WMT is specifically targeted at rehabilitating upper-limb functionality, researchers found it also improved lower limb mobility.
"Our study shows us that Wii-based therapy provides three essential benefits to stroke survivors," says neurophysiologist Dr Penelope McNulty. "After receiving this treatment their stepping as well as arm and hand movements were improved and many enjoyed the additional benefit of increased cardiovascular fitness. We were pleasantly surprised with these results."
The Wii-based therapy involved one hour sessions per day of an individually tailored program involving Wii-Sports (golf, bowling, baseball, tennis or boxing). Game activities were introduced and varied according to motor function and progress of each patient.
Participants in the mCMIT group wore a padded mitt on the less affected hand to encourage use of the more affected upper limb. Activities of mCIMT were tailored to individual deficits and were mostly performed seated.
"Our research emphasises the need to increase physical activity post-stroke. We have shown that WMT is as effective for upper limb rehabilitation as mCIMT and, crucially, it has the added benefit of having higher patient preference, so they're likely to adhere to their rehabilitation training for longer."
Researchers say that WMT can be tailored to address aerobic deconditioning that affects around 50 per cent of stroke survivors without compromising its focus on improving upper limb function. Dr McNulty believes that with few minor modifications, Wii-based Movement Therapy can be individualised to provide a carefully controlled cardiovascular rehabilitation option for stroke survivors.
"Our research highlights the importance of developing a therapy that focuses on enabling increased independence post-stroke, and that the Wii-based Movement Therapy can deliver benefits that have been overlooked by current standard therapies."