Playing Video Game May Boost MS Patients' Balance: Study08/26/14
TUESDAY, Aug. 26, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- An exercise component
of the popular Nintendo Wii video game may help multiple sclerosis
patients improve their balance by rewiring their brains, a new
No medications exist to preserve balance in MS patients, and
some drugs make balance worse, said study lead author Dr. Luca
Prosperini, a neurologist at Sapienza University in Rome,
It appears that patients who use the Wii Balance Board five days
a week -- moving to snowboarding or dance games, for example -- may
help reduce their risk of falls and boost certain brain
connections, possibly because they're coordinating their movements
with a figure on a screen, Prosperini said.
There are caveats to the research, however. The study was small,
and there's a risk that patients could hurt themselves by falling,
although they can play seated rather than stand on the balance
"Patients with MS should be encouraged to start using this system only under supervision," Prosperini said. "Once well-trained, they may use it at home."
Multiple sclerosis is a nerve disorder that affects how the
brain communicates with the body.
"Balance problems are quite common and arise due to the effects of MS on a number of functions that are important for balance," said Nicholas LaRocca, vice president for health care delivery and policy research with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Among other things, MS can disrupt vision, coordination and the body's balancing mechanism, he said.
Patients turn to a variety of strategies to support balance, he
said. Canes and orthotic devices (shoe inserts) help some people,
and rehabilitation can build strength and coordination. Some
patients try electrical muscle stimulation to maintain or regain
control of their muscles, he said.
Prosperini was inspired to study a video game treatment for MS
when he saw patients in rehabilitation using a balance-boosting
system that reminded him of an old Atari video game. Then a
commercial about the Wii Balance Board caught his attention. The
balance board, shaped a bit like a weight scale, detects a person's
movements and allows them to be translated into action on a TV
Prosperini tried to get a grant from Nintendo to support
research. The company wasn't interested, he said, but he obtained
funding from the Italian MS Society.
His previous research has supported the idea that patients
regain balance when they use the Wii Balance Board. The new study
aimed to understand what's happening in their brains.
In the new study, published online Aug. 26 in
Radiology, 27 MS patients were split into two groups. One
group spent three months doing nothing special while the other
group played with the Wii Balance Board for 30 to 40 minutes daily,
five days a week. Then the groups reversed roles: Those who had
done nothing special used the balance board for three months, while
the others stopped using it.
Another 15 healthy people tried the system, too.
All participants had specialized MRI scans to detect any
physiological changes in the brain.
The researchers found that patients regained some balance,
presumably by using the board, and their brains actually changed.
Using the video game was tied to improvements in the protective
sheath around nerves, leading to better conduction of impulses
between the body and brain, Prosperini said.
It's not clear if other kinds of training might also help MS
patients regain balance, he said. But video games like those that
use the balance board might have similar benefits because they
require patients to mimic movements that they see on screen,
potentially providing an extra brain boost.
LaRocca, of the MS Society, said the study is valid but has
limitations. For one, it's difficult to interpret what the brain
changes mean, he said. Also, he added, the research suggests that
the improvements in balance aren't permanent, requiring patients to
keep at it to make the benefits last.
"Training needs to be ongoing, just like any other form of exercise," LaRocca said.
While the study found an association between the video-game
balance board and balance-enhancing brain changes, it did not
establish a cause-and-effect relationship. Prosperini said more
research is needed, especially since the study was so small.
"There is increasing evidence of the clinical benefit of playing with the balance board, and more in general with highly interactive video games," he said. But researchers don't know enough about why the patients are getting better, he added.
For more about MS, see the
National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Copyright © 2014
. All rights reserved.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.