By Ronnie Cohen
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A doctor who generally advises children to turn off electronic devices urges them to play "Stroke Hero," a video game that teaches kids to identify stroke symptoms and summon help, according to a new study.
"While I recognize the hazards of video games, and I recognize the need to limit screen time, what better way to enable children to save lives than to have them play a video game?" Dr. Olajide Williams, the study's lead author, told Reuters Health.
Americans suffer nearly 800,000 strokes a year, and on average, one American dies from stroke every four minutes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Treatment administered within four and a half hours of the first signs of stroke can save lives and reverse disabling symptoms, said Williams, who is chief of staff of neurology at Columbia University Medical Center.
Better known as the Hip Hop Doc, Williams founded and runs Hip Hop Health, a public health organization that works with rap stars like Doug E Fresh to promote healthy living through music, videos and games.
Williams and rapper Artie Green designed Stroke Hero for an experiment with 210 low-income nine- and 10-year-olds in New York's Harlem neighborhood, where the neurologist estimates 15 to 20 percent of kids are raised by their grandparents - who are at high risk for stroke.
Some 25 percent of the fourth and fifth graders had a personal experience with a stroke victim, according to the study published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke.
The game stresses the importance of speed in recognizing symptoms and immediately dialing 911.
Players use medicine to shoot down clots blocking the flow of blood traveling from the heart to the brain. When the clot-busting drugs run out, players must answer questions about stroke to refill a syringe.
After playing the video game, children given a hypothetical scenario were 33 percent more likely to recognize stroke and call an ambulance, Williams said. Participants retained the knowledge when they were tested seven weeks later.
"We were particularly excited about the retention after seven weeks," Williams said. "How many academic curriculums can have that retention?"
Throughout the game, Green raps about signs of a brain attack. "Stroke, it'll cause weakness in both sides. . . . Stroke, you lose vision in both eyes. Make your speech slur when you talk," he sings.
"Never hesitate - call 911. Stroke doesn't care if you're black or white. Knowing all the symptoms will save your life."
About 90 percent of the participants reported liking the game, and 67 percent said they planned to play it at home. For reasons the authors did not understand, however, only 26 percent of the children, mostly girls, used the "secret code" given to them to play Stroke Hero online at home.
Video games have been successfully used to teach children about healthy food choices as well as how to care for themselves if they have cancer or a chronic disease, such as diabetes (see Reuters Health story of October 17, 2013 here: http://reut.rs/1aZippz).
Child psychologist Douglas Gentile has studied video-game use among youth. Based on a 2009 national survey, he found that 88 percent of American boys and girls between eight and 18 played the games 13 hours a week on average.
Gentile, who runs the Media Research Lab at Iowa State University, was not involved in the current study. He told Reuters Health he welcomed the medium's use as a novel tool to teach children to look for warning symptoms that might prevent disability or death.
"There's a real opportunity here," he said. "Games are magnificent teachers. We've only just begun to scratch the surface of games to be used in this way. Children like action, music, humor, animals, cartoons, sound effects, changes in camera angles. Compare that to health class where you have one teacher standing in one place."
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke funded the study.
Stroke Hero is available to play online in the games section of the website www.hiphoppublichealth.org http://www.hiphoppublichealth.org.
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1emRqTC Stroke, online January 30, 2014.
(This version of the story corrects the title of lead author in paragraph 4.)