Games in Health – DA16


Game based technology helps people with MS

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a debilitating disease that affects the central nervous system. It causes progressive deterioration in motor skills and sensory perception, and can also cause psychological problems. There is no known cure, but there are many treatments to alleviate the effects of MS. Now researchers at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) have found a novel and effective way to help people with MS – through the use of technology based on video games.


As revealed by the 2016 Digital Australia Report, video game technology is increasingly being used for other purposes beyond entertainment – 89 per cent say playing games improve thinking skills, 76 per cent agree video games increase mental stimulation, 79 per cent find video games help improve coordination and dexterity and 61 per cent state video games help fight dementia.


Dr Phu Hoang and his colleagues at NeuRA have developed a games-based stepping exercise designed for people with MS, to help improve their balance and their mental skills. It is an excellent example of how games-based technologies have real world applications, and can improve people’s lives.


In a pilot study published in the MS Journal and funded by MS Research Australia, Dr Hoang and his team have shown how the stepping exercise directly targets the key balance issues that contribute to falls risk for people with MS.


“The system uses an electronic mat connected to a computer console and a video monitor,” explains Dr Hoang. “It takes people with MS through a simple stepping game designed to help them improve their balance. It’s a rhythm video game that asks them to step as accurately as possible, in terms of direction and timing, on different positions on the mat.”


A second part of the game requires them to respond as quickly as possible to step instructions. The mat measures participants’ reaction time, stepping speed and accuracy. The exercise was performed for 30 minutes at least twice per week over 12 weeks, with the level of difficulty increased as the participants gained confidence in their ability.


The study found that people with MS who did the stepping game showed significantly faster and more accurate steps, as well as improvements in real-world measures of balance, posture and walking speed.


The results also revealed faster reaction time and improved upper limb dexterity, which suggests that the stepping exercise also improves the thinking skills needed to reduce the risk of falling.


“The work is exciting because it shows it is possible to modify key physical and cognitive risk factors for falls in people with MS, using games based technology.” says Dr Hoang.


“Studies have shown that at least half of people with MS experience frequent falls, which often require medical care. Fear of falling can cause people with MS to restrict their daily activities, with significant impacts on their quality of life.”


The initial trial of the stepping mat with 50 people with MS has proved so successful that it is now being extended to a multi-centre program across Australia, with as many as 500 people.


You can see the stepping mat in action here:




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