Gaming technology can help stroke patients recover at home
An EU-funded project has created easy-to-use, active computer games that can help build new nerve cell connections in stroke patients' brains and allow for a more flexible and cheaper home-based recovery.
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Stroke is the second most common cause of death in Europe yet many patients survive its devastating effects. Their recovery is often a long and difficult process that can stretch over many years involving costly visits to medical facilities and specialised equipment.
The EU-funded project REHAB@HOME designed new technology to give patients the chance to continue their rehabilitation at home using tailored gaming technology. Available on the market, it can help bring down the costs of healthcare, as well as improve patient well-being by allowing them to access treatment at home.
The challenge was to develop games that are fun and motivating for patients over a long period that achieve improvements in patient health by improving physical and cognitive development at the same time, says REHAB@HOME project manager Peter Knackfuss, general manager of InfoConsult GmbH in Germany.
Rebuilding brain connections
A stroke destroys nerve cells in the brain and the process of recovery is based on neuroplasticity or boosting the brain's ability to reorganise itself by forming new connections, allowing nerve cells in the brain to compensate for defects. Neuroplasticity only takes place with the right stimulus to the brain, which teaches it new ways of performing tasks to circumvent or compensate for any disabilities.
REHAB@HOME researchers designed and developed cognitively-stimulating computer games that allow patients with upper body physical disabilities to exercise at home via their television using movements of their hands and arms. Patients can choose from a gamut of games, including one about flowers and bees, another about popping flowers, as well as others about coloured cans, a blackboard and even a mad fridge.
The device, which is based on commercially available products such as Microsoft Kinect, is low-cost, robust and easy to use. It also collects physical and physiological data such as pulse and respiration via wearable sensors placed on the hand during exercise. This allows the patients progress to be monitored and evaluated by the physician or therapist, and the games to be adjusted according to the patients progress and needs.
Our technology will revolutionise stroke recovery since it dramatically reduces or completely avoids the costs of patient transport from their home to place of treatment, can reduce the use of expensive medical equipment, allows the patient to set their own timetable and can even support patients in remote rural areas, says Knackfuss.
In trials of the technology, which took place in Italy and Austria, patients showed a 13.4 % improvement in velocity of grasping and releasing movements of their hands. The technology is currently available on the market via Imaginary the Italy-based REHAB@HOME partner. It is known as REHABILITY.