Purdue Researchers Using Wii Games to Improve Parkinson’s Patients’ Movement, Speech, and Quality of Life

Ana de Barros, PhD avatar

by Ana de Barros, PhD |

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Wii games for Parkinson's

Two Purdue University professors are using the global phenomenon known as the Nintendo Wii gaming system to help Parkinson’s disease patients improve their movement, speech, and quality of life.

The professors in the College of Health and Human Sciences, Jessica Huber and Jeff Haddad, are particularly interested in studying how people can benefit from games that are specifically developed to meet their needs. Huber is a professor of speech, language, and hearing sciences, and Haddad an associate professor of health and kinesiology, or the study of body movements.

To test Parkinson’s patients’ ability to use the gaming system, Huber and Haddad placed them on a balance board and then encouraged them to move a cursor to a specific target on a monitor. The objective was to evaluate how brain activity and body movement depend on each other.

“We’re looking at being able to do things in their house that may be challenging, like put away groceries when you have to stand on your toes and reach for cabinets, or to cook and communicate at the same time,” Haddad said in a Purdue University news article. “All these things that people, when they’re younger, take for granted that get more difficult to perform as they get older, and even more so if they have some sort of neuromuscular disease.”

Haddad recalled the results of a collaborative study, which Purdue conducted with researchers at Indiana University and the University of Calgary, to talk about gait and balance.

In the study, which included both Parkinson’s patients and healthy older adults, the games, when used for a certain period of time, tended to show more positive outcomes than traditional treatments.

Huber also believes game play can help participants with their speech patterns.

“As speakers, we typically take pauses at set locations — a major thought, a minor thought, not really in the middle of a thought,” Huber said. “After therapy with this, their pauses were more typically placed. They didn’t pause as often in unexpected locations.”

Huber and the other researchers don’t know why these positive outcomes take place, but they plan new studies to try to find out. Medicare rules make it difficult for Parkinson’s patients to have both their physical and verbal therapies covered. Because of this, Huber and Haddad want to make the technology available in patients’ homes.

“The therapist can check in on the patient wirelessly, and they can see if they’re doing their exercises, they can see how they’re doing, they can call them back if they seem to be falling behind,” Huber said. “I also think when you have a population with a mobility impairment, treating them in the home is critical.”

In addition to the health benefits the games provide, Haddad and Huber said patient enjoyment is critical. With participants doing three sessions weekly for eight weeks, Haddad said researchers must find ways to keep things fun and interesting.

“We’ve learned some things that we’ll try to implement to make it more exciting,” he said. “More games, and eventually being home-based, will probably make this more enjoyable than going to a physical therapy clinic — just not as fun as going and partying with their friends.”

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