Indiana University and Rutgers medical and engineering professors have had success in using virtual-reality video games as remote therapy – tele-rehab – for teens with hemiplegic cerebral palsy. "While these initial encouraging results were in teens with limited hand and arm function due to perinatal brain injury, we suspect using these games could similarly benefit individuals with other illness that affect movement, such as multiple sclerosis, stroke, arthritis and even those with orthopedic injuries affecting the arm or hand," said Meredith R. Golomb, Indiana University School of Medicine associate professor of neurology. Participants in the study used “a specially fitted sensor glove linked to a remotely monitored videogame console installed in their home” to play games such as making images appear onscreen. Patients did this for 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

The researchers say that the game improved the patients’ forearm bone health, and MRI scans showed changes in brain activity, as well.

Among the other benefits of this sort of therapy is that if it is successful it can be used instead of traditional rehabilitation therapy, which is not only expensive, but often does not cover teen cerebral palsy patients. It also cuts down on commuting and health-care time and stress, as therapists measure and adjust a patient’s therapy remotely, and allows patients to do the therapy when times that are convenient to them.

There’s also the notion of fun that has been proven before in Wii rehab efforts. Because video games are pleasurable, patients sometimes are able to endure the pain of rehabilitation better than they are with traditional practices.

The IU/Rutgers study was published in the January 2010 issue of Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

By Mark Alvarez