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Teens Are Game For Improving Hand Function

Teens with cerebral palsy are getting some help from virtual reality videogames. It seems that virtual reality gaming monitored by a remote control, can improve forearm bone health and hand function in teenagers who suffer from hemiplegic cerebral palsy. Virtual gaming is helping these kids perform better in daily tasks such as dressing, eating, and other two-handed tasks.

Limited Function

Indiana University School of Medicine's Meredith R. Golomb, M.D., M.Sc., explains, "While these initial encouraging results were in teens with limited hand and arm function due to perinatal brain injury, we suspect using these games could similarly benefit individuals with other illness that affect movement, such as multiple sclerosis, stroke, arthritis and even those with orthopedic injuries affecting the arm or hand." Golomb is an associate professor of neurology at the university as well as a Riley Hospital for Children pediatric neurologist. Dr. Golomb is the lead author on a pilot study that demonstrates how such custom videogames can help rehabilitate handicapped teens.

Collaborating on this project is the Rutgers University Tele-Rehabilitation Institute, who has as its head Grigore Burdea, Ph.D., a professor of electrical and computer engineering. The results of this collaborative effort appeared in the January 2010 issue of the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

Scientists working on the project found that the apparent hand function improvement could be seen on functional magnetic resonance imaging scans (fMRI) in which brain activity changes were observed.

Hand Avatars

The pilot study was small, with just three participants. The participants were told to exercise the hand with diminished capabilities for half an hour daily, five days a week. During the exercises, participants wore gloves that had been fitted with sensors and linked to a videogame console that had been installed in their homes. The consoles were set up so they could be remotely monitored. Rutgers developed special games such as one in which images or "sliders" appear, including avatars of the participants' hands, and these were calibrated according to the function of the individuals. The focus of these games was to improve the function of the hand as a whole.

"Popular off-the-shelf games are targeted to people with normal hand and arm function and coordination. These games don't work for or benefit those with moderate-severe hemiplegic cerebral palsy and many other disorders that affect movement. They just aren't made to be used by or improve hands that can't pinch or grasp," explained Dr. Golomb.

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