Forget the notion that video games make you a couch potato. In patients who suffered a stroke -- a "brain attack" that occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery and oftentimes leads to motor skill deterioration and difficulties -- virtual reality and other video games actually helped strengthen their arms, according to research reported in the journal, Stroke.
"Virtual reality gaming is a promising and potentially useful alternative to enhance motor improvement after stroke," said Gustavo Saposnik, M.D., M.Sc., lead author of the study and director of the Stroke Outcomes Research Unit at St. Michael's Hospital at the University of Toronto. "Virtual reality gaming therapy may provide an affordable, enjoyable and effective alternative to intensify treatment and promote motor recovery after stroke."
Some 55 percent to 75 percent of stroke survivors experience motor deficits that reduce their quality of life, according to the American Stroke Association. At best, conventional therapy provides "modest and sometimes delayed effects," said Saposnik.
In an effort to find out whether the alternative therapy of video gaming could improve these outcomes, Saposnik and his colleagues analyzed seven observational and five randomized trials that had investigated the effects of electronic games on upper arm strength and function in patients who had suffered a mild to moderate stroke.
After virtual reality sessions, patients participating in the observational studies experienced improvements in motor strength and in motor function, averaging 14.7 percent and 20 percent respectively. In addition, the randomized trials that were analyzed saw that patients who played virtual reality games had a higher chance of improvement in motor strength -- 4.89 times -- compared to those who received standard post-stroke therapy. Though each study varied in its approach, most patients played a total of 20 or 30 hours of video gaming during four to six weeks.
Why It May Work
Previous research shows the brain's neuroplasticity -- the ability to create new nerve cell connections -- gets maximized with challenging, repetitive, task-specific, motivating and novel training.
Saposnik said advantages of virtual reality systems include:
But more studies need to be done to compare the combination of virtual reality with conventional physical and occupational therapy to conventional treatment alone, said Saposnik. So far there have been no large (more than 100 patients), randomized, controlled trials taking that all into account.
Until then, for stroke survivors at least, it seems playing a round of Zombie Smash won't make you a video zombie after all.