Italian researchers say the Nintendo Wii Balance Board has therapeutic applications, provoking changes in brain connections associated with balance and coordination that reduce the risk of accidental falls.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the central nervous system of which balance impairment is a defining symptom, and the Nintendo Wii could be a more practical tool for rehabilitation than physical therapy, allowing patients more independence.
"This finding should have an important impact on the rehabilitation process of patients, suggesting that they need ongoing exercises to maintain good performance in daily living activities," says lead author Luca Prosperini, M.D., Ph.D., from Sapienza University.
In the study, researchers worked with a unique form of MRI analysis called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) that allows close observation of the white matter tracts that send messages within the brain and to the body.
A total of 27 participants with MS used Wii Balance Board-based visual feedback training for 12 weeks under the researchers' surveillance.
The scans showed changes in the nerve tracts important for balance and motion which correlated with marked improvements in balance.
"The most important finding in this study is that a task-oriented and repetitive training aimed at managing a specific symptom is highly effective and induces brain plasticity," says Prosperini.
Therapeutic uses for Wii are not a new concept. A 2013 study described how laproscopic surgeons can improve their technique by "playing" with the gadget.
Kinect is a gaming technology well known for its therapeutic uses in areas ranging from autism to physical therapy and a recent study details how it can be used to make yoga available for the blind in a well-known project called "Eyes Free Yoga."
The new study was published in the journal Radiology.