Computer games help stroke victims recover

Anastasia Salamastrakis

Melbourne stroke patients are trialing a new form of rehabilitation. They're using customised computer games to improve their movement and balance. However, there's not a joystick or remote control to be seen anywhere.

Eighty three year old Will Booth couldn't walk or talk after a recent stroke. He's now playing computer games for the first time in his life and it's helping his recovery.

One in six Australians will experience a stroke so experts at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health are seeking ways to improve rehabilitation.

“Traditional exercises are really good but playing the games makes it much more fun and interactive so I really enjoy it.” says Julie Clydesdale, who has had a stroke.

Working with physiotherapists at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, the Florey researchers, led by Professor Julie Bernhardt, are designing and assessing the impact of computer games.

Unlike traditional games, these are activated by the body. A camera picks up a patient's movements and allows them to control what happens on the screen.

“Computer games are great in that they can really encourage a person to do more physical activity and practice which we know is really important for recovery after stroke.” Says physiotherapist Kelly Bower.

These games are a fun way for those recovering from stroke to get out of bed, move around and repair neural pathways.

By moving in response to the video game’s challenges, new pathways in the brain can be created, compensating for the areas destroyed by the stroke.

Popular consoles like wiis and the xbox have been trialed but found to be too difficult for patients.

The next step in the Florey project is to refine the games and create more complex challenges for future patients. If you would like to donate to help Professor Bernhardt with her research, please visit https://www.florey.edu.au/support-florey/give-onlinewhere you can donate or call 03 9035 6789.