Exergaming took off with the creation of Nintendo Wii in 2006. While it was hailed for its ability to change sedentary habits at the time, one of the biggest benefits of this type of technology was yet to be discovered.
Exercise is an important element of treatment for people suffering from Parkinson’s disease, particularly those who are in the early stages of progression. While traditional exercise is great, for older adults, controlled environments where they can be monitored is beneficial. Enter exergaming.
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative movement disorder that progresses through a gradual increase in motor dysfunction. While there are pharmaceutical approaches to treatment that can provide some relief from symptoms, neurologists typically recommend regular exercise and physical therapy. But that’s easier said than done.
Typical exercise and physical therapy programs have a tendency to be repetitive and eventually fail to challenge patients. Exergaming on the other hand provides what an article in the International Journal of Computer Games Technology calls “character-based, interactive 3D games which promote physical training in a nonlinear fashion, and can provide experiences that change each time the game is played.”
How is Exergaming Used in Parkinson’s Treatment?
The Parkinson’s Outcomes Project is a study of 12,000 people in five countries conducted over the course of a decade. It found that starting exercise as early as possible in Parkinson’s progression and doing a minimum of 2.5 hours per week can prevent the condition from getting worse.
In terms of the type of exercise, experts concluded that stretching in conjunction with aerobic and strength training was the ideal workout for Parkinson’s patients. A study from The Lancet Neurology used stationary bikes and games that motivated participants to take on 30-45 minute challenges three times a week for six months.
The games were designed to be interactive, in that they could choose to race against themselves or other riders in the program. The games would get harder as participants became more fit and the system monitors heart rate as participants exercise. By contrast, a control group was instructed only to do stretching. The condition of participants in the bike group improved significantly more than the stretching cohort and was comparable to the effect of numerous drug therapies for Parkinson’s.
It also revealed that aerobic exercise has effects on motor signs that resemble the impact of the drug levodopa with one key difference. Exercise stabilizes motor function while levodopa merely improves signs.
Further studies have since backed up the fact that exercise is a vital element in Parkinson’s rehabilitation and treatment. The reason why is still not clear as scientist explore whether the exercises slow the progression of the disease or simply help the brain cope with it better.
Regardless of how it does it, exergaming therapy has proven to be, as an analysis published in the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation puts it: “feasible, safe, and at least as effective as traditional rehabilitation.”
New studies are examining Parkinson’s disease in conjunction with different cognitive states, such as those suffering from mild cognitive impairment. While more research is clearly needed for advances in science to lead to new therapies, it’s clear that exergaming has the potential to improve lives and the ability of Parkinson’s patients to perform activities of daily living.