Would you think that video games could help stroke patients?

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Because they can.

I recently read an article on the Nottingham Post about a hospital that is trialing the Xbox Kinect in helping stroke patients regain muscle movement. I know I have already written an article on the health benefits of gaming, which you can read here, but I couldn’t help bringing the attention of this blog to this particular article because I think it’s so outstanding the the way it represents the endless possibility that video game technology has to help the broader society.

This particular use of technology involves a speech and language therapist on screen that helps patients through exercises and rewards them for doing well. It takes basic game mechanics that have been in use for years, and applies them to a completely new field and it’s nothing short of revolutionary. A cheap and easy to use technology that can rehabilitate in the comfort of someones own home. That same someone that is almost certainly sick of visiting hospitals every other day after a stroke changed the course of their life.

I love this story so much because it gives me hope that if this partnership between games and stroke rehabilitation becomes a mainstream treatment, then that same relationship between health (whether it be mental or physical) and interactive gaming will carry on to many different facets of the health world. Imagine using Wii U to help with muscle rehabilitation, or playing Portal 2 to help stimulate the brain. These are genuinely enjoyable activities that I believe patients would be much happier engaging with than a daunting rehabilitation program.

Video Games and Medicine

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It’s an odd combination of words, “Video Games and Medicine,” yet thanks to the Oculus Rift and games of increasing complexity, it’s becoming a more common one.

There’s been a fair bit of chatter around the medical applications of the Oculus Rift – a virtual reality headset that allows the user to be entirely immersed in whatever digital experience it’s projecting. The terminally ill or disabled can relax and live vicariously through footage of a South-East Asian holiday. The mentally handicapped can be run through simulations that are designed to stimulate brain activity and help with growth. These applications can be used on people with PTSD, young kids struggling with development and so much more.

While Virtual Reality is a new avenue where video games and medical practice can overlap, it certainly isn’t the only avenue. A study out of Florida State University by Val Shute found that the popular Valve title ‘Portal 2’ was better for training the brain and better human cognition than Lumosity, a popular online service designed to stimulate brain activity. And hey, Portal 2 has the surprising side effect of being ridiculously fun.

It doesn’t stop there – a great mini doco from National Geographic shows how researchers used the principles of video games to try and better treat stroke patients. This is definitely something you should watch, and you can check it out here