Motion control video games may help children with degenerative ataxia

Children suffering from degenerative ataxia – a neurological condition that results in a gross lack of coordination of muscle movement – may benefit from playing video games that require the whole body to control what's happening in the game, according to research conducted by the University of Tübingen in Germany.

The study, led by Winfried Ilg, found that children were much more receptive to the novelty of "interactive and motivational" treatment rather than lengthy physiotherapy sessions. Effective treatments for ataxia are currently lacking, and while regular physiotherapy can improve ataxia symptoms in adults, it was found that children had a tendency to be unmotivated to attend frequent physio sessions.

The study was conducted with 10 adolescents who suffered from progressive spinocerebellar ataxia and substituted physiotherapy with three whole-body controlled video games. While the study did not reveal which games or motion control devices were used, the study does say that the games were chosen based on "motor skills required to play them and aimed to train goal-directed limb movement, dynamic balance and whole-body coordination."

The study was carried out over an eight week period with study participants playing the games under laboratory conditions in the first two weeks and at home for the remaining six weeks. They were asked to train for an hour at least four times a week.

The study found that after eight weeks of playing motion-controlled games the participants experienced a significant reduction in ataxia symptoms, with balance capacity improving significantly.

Ilg said of the study: "...our findings already indicate a highly motivational, cost-efficient and home-based rehabilitation strategy to train dynamic balance and interaction with dynamic environments that might be useful for a large variety of young-onset movement disorders."

Ilg and his co-authors say that further research is needed.

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