How to Use Computer Gaming as Therapy for Parkinson’s Disease

How to Use Computer Gaming as Therapy for Parkinson’s Disease

The brain is a plastic organ continually reshaping itself in response to the stimuli it receives and the way those stimuli are processed. The old adage “use it or lose it” applies even in the face of a challenging disease like Parkinson’s.

Computer gaming can help with brain training by exercising the brain to help moderate the effects of PD. For computer gaming to be efficacious as therapy, it must be implemented with careful attention to finding the right fit between the demands of the game and the therapeutic needs of the PD patient.

Recent research on video gaming and treatment for PD shows it can help with physical issues such as gait and balance.

The key to successfully using computer gaming is to find the right match of game for each person, as well as the appropriate difficulty level. The game must be challenging, but not so challenging that it becomes discouraging. It also must be rewarding and enjoyable. (There is that dopamine factor to consider.) Gaming has a “sweet spot,” like Goldilocks, in which you find just the right fit. I found this balance in the game “Shroud of the Avatar,” which I recommend for people with PD.

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It took me a while to find the right video game — years, actually. “Shroud of the Avatar,” or “SotA,” is that game! It can be played at various levels. Not only can you find the sweet spot for your own style of playing, but also you can move that spot around depending on whether it is a good day or a bad day.

The game has a solid ethical foundation built on virtue and clean gameplay (no foul language). Playing SotA for 10 to 20 hours a week exercises the brain and the body — use it or lose it — while having a good time doing it.

SotA is just the right game for those with PD. It offers exercise for geographical memory, hand-eye coordination, speech, and problem-solving (scenario looping) at a variety of levels. It is a place where impulsivity can be applied with fewer consequences than in the real world. It is a place where the grouch can go when T.O.O.T.S. needs to be applied.

Have the urge to buy? Then earn virtual money and buy virtual things. Frustrated? Then enter the virtual world and work it out on some monsters. Have pain with your PD (a difficult problem for me)? Spend time in the virtual world of SotA to help manage the pain with less medication. Want a sense of accomplishment? Help build a community while also making yourself a strong avatar.

I have built a “sanctuary” for Parkinson’s folks inside SotA. It is a place where your avatar will find support and fellowship. Within this sanctuary is a place where you can find that sweet spot while contributing to building a support community. You can find this virtual sanctuary inside SotA in a town called Grumridge, just east of the city Aerie. You can see it on the map shown in the cover art of this column.

It may seem counterintuitive to say that fighting skeletons and building a virtual community is relaxing, but this has been my experience. Conversations I have had with others indicate that this experience is common. I often have clarity of mind while playing, and some of the ideas for these columns pop up in the middle of the game. That dopamine effect happens when successful within SotA, and the game offers many ways to experience success. You can’t get much better than having good, clean fun while slowing down the progression of PD!

One more note: I do use adaptive equipment to help me play the game. I have a large trackball on my dominant hand and a keypad with a thumb joystick on my other hand. You can see this illustrated in the cover art. It takes a little while to learn how to use this equipment, but the reward is a greater success rate inside the world of SotA (more dopamine!).

I also have a headset with a microphone. Plenty of opportunities exist to speak with others within the world of SotA, and the community of players is the best I have encountered in the gaming world. As far as I know, this is the first time a virtual support community within a game was developed for people with PD. Oh — and the game is free!

I look forward to seeing you there. My avatar name is Dr. Wiz. Let us build something special together.

PS: Thanks to the all the avatars (especially Ajumma Kim) and the game developers for their help building the Grumridge sanctuary.

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Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.

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I am a retired professor and research scientist along with being an artist, philosopher, writer, therapist and mystic. I am also a husband, father, grandfather, master gardenerand Vietnam Vet. All of these roles influence how PD interacts with my life's journey.

5 comments

  1. Bob McIntyre says:

    Have you tried the Wii Balance Board? Great “games” for balance, strength training, yoga, and more. All done while standing on the Wii Balance Board.

    Personally, I sit enough at a computer. I research, study, listen, read, and problem-solve. It sure keeps my brain active. It’s the body/brain that concerns me, so I attack my balance issues with the Wii board. Well worth looking into. Just my 2¢…

    • Dr. C says:

      Great input! I add snow shoe trekking when I can’t garden – but that has not much to do with virtual reality. Wii board – nice idea.

  2. I am ready to try dipping back into the world of the computer game…it has come a long way from Zork, which I used to play back in the 80s. Tomb Raider always hit the sweet spot of difficulty/gratification, so I hope I can find that spot…it can be tricky to find…
    Derek

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