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Study To Analyze Wii’s Benefits For Parkinson’s Patients

December 3, 2010

Could a video game system benefit those who suffer from Parkinson’s disease? That’s exactly what researchers at one university in Northern Ireland are attempting to find out.

Dr. Cathy Craig of the Queen’s University Belfast School of Psychology will conduct the study, which will gauge whether or not playing on the Nintendo Wii gaming system can help those afflicted with the degenerative disorder of the central nervous system.

Craig’s study, which is being made possible by a nearly $55,000 (£35,000) grant from charitable organization Parkinson’s UK, “will evaluate the benefits of existing games using Wii technology and harness the power of this movement-based game technology to develop their own bespoke games to be used by people with Parkinson’s,” the university said in a press release.

According to Queen’s University Belfast, Parkinson’s UK decided to sponsor the research after receiving “overwhelming” positive feedback from patients, many of whom discovered that playing games using the Wii’s motion controllers “is a really good way to exercise at home and has helped them with their balance, movements and mood.”

Previous research has shown that exercise can help protect the nerve cells that are being killed off by the disease, helping them “work better and survive for longer,” the university says. Craig and her colleagues will attempt to discover whether or not use of the Wii can improve the physical abilities and lifestyle of those suffering from Parkinson’s. They also aim to discover how different games help combat specific symptoms of the disease, including tremor and balance issues.

“Our hope is to harness the benefits of the Wii technology to develop a system designed specifically for people with Parkinson’s,” Craig said in a statement. “If the project is successful the benefits could be twofold. It could allow us to develop a simple way to assess Parkinson’s symptoms yet provide a safe and effective way for people with the condition to be more active and keep fit.”

“The Wii has the ability to help people improve their movement, not just fitness,” she added in an interview with Guardian Health Correspondent Denis Campbell on Wednesday. “People report improvement in their balance, which helps prevent falls that are common with Parkinson’s”¦  Others find that the social side of using the Wii really improves their mood and combats the anxiety and depression that many people with Parkinson’s experience.”

According to a Parkinson’s UK snap poll, 81-percent of those interviewed said that they currently use the Wii to exercise, and two-thirds of them (68 percent) believed that it helped them cope with their symptoms.

Among those backing the survey is Academy Award winning actress and Parkinson’s activist Helen Mirren, who touted the research on the UK television program Daybreak during an ongoing media tour to raise awareness of the condition.

Mirren–who is working alongside Parkinson’s UK on their ‘Fair Care for Parkinson’s’ campaign to ensure that all UK residents suffering from the disease have access to vital healthcare services, regardless of location–told Campbell that she had “sympathy for their campaign for equitable access” and that it was “terrible that one person living 15 miles away from another does not have access to something while the other person does.”

“A good friend of mine, a photographer who I’ve known for 30 years, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s about 10 years ago,” Mirren said during the Guardian interview. “He’s very wobbly on his feet, uses a stick, has shaking hands, has an increasing problem with walking, falls and can’t rely on his balance. He’s physically very fragile. It has limited his life and restricts his place in the public world.”

“Parkinson’s is a slow but inevitable process. It’s hard living with it on a daily basis,” she added. “The difficulty facing people with it is that they never quite know ‘Can I or can’t I do this today?’ That’s what makes normal, everyday life more and more difficult, because, for example, you can drive perfectly well for five minutes and then suddenly not be able to do something you thought you could do.”

Mirren told Campbell that she hoped the public would become more aware and accepting of the condition, as they have with autism in recent years.

“People with Parkinson’s are not some weird people on the edge of human experience,” she said. “The most important thing is to bring people with Parkinson’s into our world and for the public to have a real understanding of it, as they’re beginning to have with autism.”

“20 years ago autism was this weird, spooky, terrifying thing and now it’s much, much better understood. It’s the same with Parkinson’s,” Mirren added. “The public here need to have a similarly open discussion about Parkinson’s. People like my friend are as valuable and important as you and I and anybody else, and they must not feel that the world is such that they have to hide themselves away. That’s horrible and ridiculous.”

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