Neuroscientists develop a video game for stroke recovery
Neuroscientists develop a video game for stroke recovery

After a stroke, it is often possible — with months of therapy and determination — for the brain to relearn how to control a weakened limb. However, finding the resources, including therapists, finances and time, can be the bigger hurdle.

Enter Circus Challenge, the first in a suite of soon-to-come action video games, designed by stroke experts at Newcastle University and the new company Limbs Alive, hoping to provide extra in-home therapy.

"Eighty per cent of patients do not regain full recovery of arm and hand function, and this really limits their independence and ability to return to work," said Janet Eyre, a paediatric neuroscience professor at Newcastle University, in a news release. She set up Limbs Alive to produce and develop the games.

"Patients need to be able to use both [of] their arms and hands for most everyday activities, such as doing up a zip, making a bed, tying shoe laces and unscrewing a jar. With our video game, people get engrossed in the competition and action of the circus characters and forget that the purpose of the game is therapy."

Patients use wireless controllers to learn various circus-related skills, from lion taming and juggling to high diving and trapeze work. As they succeed at various tasks, they go on to more challenging quests which involve greater skill, strength and coordination.

Danny Mann, a 68-year-old former ship builder who suffered a stroke in February, had never played a video game before trying out the Circus Challenge.

Danny Mann had never played a video game before; learning circus acts such as juggling with the Circus Challenge video game. (Credit: Limbs Alive)

"It was good fun, though it did feel like I was doing exercise and I worked up a sweat," he said in the news release. "The therapy exercises I normally have to do are dull but necessary, but, this game is something different, which encourages me to keep going with my therapy ... I would really like to play with my grandchildren. I can't think of a better motivation than sharing a game with them to help me on my road to recovery."

The game has been designed so that players at different skill levels can still compete. Most importantly, because of support from the Health Innovation Challenge Fund, the game may soon include telemonitoring, so that a therapist can watch a patient's progress remotely and then be able to help tailor his or her next steps.

For those in a wheelchair or with limited mobility, making the game convenient and fun could be the key to recovery.

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