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Video Games for the Chronically Ill

By Sarah Klein

Some researchers, doctors and parents still denounce video games for the time children waste, bleary-eyed, sitting on couches and staring at screens. But as more and more research shows the benefits of games, opinions are starting to change.

Now comes further proof that video games can have a positive impact: The November issue of the Mayo Clinic Health Letter reports that interactive games are especially beneficial for people suffering from chronic health issues. One game in particular – Nintendo's Wii Fit – was seen to show tremendous benefits beyond just encouraging players to be more active.

One study found improvements in fine motor skills, movement, energy levels, and other symptoms in people with Parkinson's disease who played Wii just a few times a week. Another study is currently testing using Wii Fit and Dance, Dance Revolution, another popular video game, to help people who have suffered a stroke. And a Scottish study is setting out to find whether regular games of Wii Fit will improve balance and decrease the risk of falls in people over the age of 70.

The results are so promising that some health professionals are creating individualized video game treatments for physical therapy and other rehab programs. Even retirement homes are putting video games to use.

While people with physical disabilities will benefit from improved balance and fitness, other games are improving life skills and social interactions for people struggling in those areas. Games that focus on skills like driving or cooking can be translated to daily life, and have been shown to improve chronically ill people's ability to take care of themselves.

People with Alzheimer's disease, dementia, and even ADD have shown improved speech and brain function from playing video game puzzles and other brain teasers, many of which are available on smaller handheld devices like the Nintendo DS.

In the beginning of November, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced $1.85 million in grants to select teams across the country to study the effects of interactive video games on self-management of chronic conditions. It's hard to say what kinds of results these studies will show in the long-term, and how that will affect the care of chronic illnesses, but for now the body of research on the topic will only continue to grow.

Comment by Dr. Eitan Schwarz www.mygigitalfamily.org, posted 11/26/2009, 8:26 AM:

These new tools have powerful potential applications everywhere and cannot be avoided because of fear,the generation gap, or stereotyping. After over a decade, parents are still abandoning their kids to an unsupervised digital media junkfest, while doing little systematically to tap into the great benefits that a good diet can bring.
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