May 2, 2011

Videogames for Cystic Fibrosis

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- There's a new way for kids with cystic fibrosis to keep their airways clearer. According to a new study, videogames that are controlled by the player's breath may help these children.

Cystic fibrosis is one of the most common chronic lung diseases in children and young adults. It causes mucous to build up in the lungs and digestive tract. To clear this mucous from the airways, patients have to perform breathing exhalation maneuvers, known as "huffing," several times a day.

Researchers designed software that encouraged kids to use breathing techniques. Instead of using a handheld controller, the game is controlled by a digital spirometer, which is a device that measures how fast and how much air the player breathes out. In one game, the player's breath drives the movement of a race car down a track.

Thirteen children between ages 8 and 18 underwent pulmonary function tests before the study began. Then, they participated in a game phase and a control phase for two to four weeks each. They were given a computer and spirometer during both phases.

Results showed that during the study, participants were huffing more than they did before the study began. Surprisingly, even though subjects used the spirometer during both game play and the control period, their ability to take a deep breath improved significantly only after game play.

"We aren't sure why that improvement happened, but it could be that the player's ability to carry out the vital capacity test improved simply because they were practicing this skill more often, and not because of an actual improvement in their lungs," Peter M. Bingham, lead author of the study, was quoted as saying.

"In sum, we think that these results show that using spirometer games can be a good way to involve children in respiratory therapy," Bingham said. "I think it's ethical and appropriate to meet kids 'where they are' with some engaging, digital games that can help them take charge of their own health."

SOURCE: The Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Denver, April 30, 2011