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Virtual reality may help seniors who had strokes

February 27, 2014

Although seniors may constantly remind their younger family members to put down their game controllers, studies have proven that these virtual simulators may be beneficial for individuals who have had strokes. While older adults may not see the same kind of cognitive improvements if they start playing "Call of Duty" with their grandchildren each day, certain programs developed by scientists and recommended by medical professionals may be instrumental in helping seniors to regain both mental and physical capabilities following strokes.

Air Force Academy develops rehabilitation therapy using Xbox
The popular Xbox gaming platform may hold a wealth of potential for people who are looking for virtual therapy. In 2010, the console released the Kinect, an addition to the system that provided a sensor capable of tracking a person's movement and translating it to the screen. Researchers at the Air Force Academy have developed a new game, Neumimic, which uses this virtual tracking system, according to USA Today. Patients looking to engage in physical rehabilitation can use this program to mimic movements prompted by the game. By tracking the person in front of the sensor, the game can let users know if they are performing correctly. Joshua Nielsen, a cadet working on the program, told the news source that seniors are able to track progress with the game in real time.

"Rather than coming in and saying, 'I think you did better this week,' the therapist or doctor can actually show the patient a number that says you had this much greater motion this week," Nielsen said.

Cadets have been working with Dr. Glen House since 2012, when the medical professional requested assistance in creating software to help stroke patients regain mobility. While the students have developed the program as part of a class project, House told the news agency that the project has the potential to make rehabilitation cheaper and more easily accessible for stroke patients. 

Video games may help improve motor skills
Many agencies, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to the American Heart Foundation, have endorsed the potential that video games have for contributing to a healthy lifestyle for seniors. The Stroke Foundation recently highlighted a similar stroke therapy game, the Circus Challenge, that allows patients to regain motor skills within their hands and arms. This program, compatible with the Wii gaming system, works in a similar fashion, requiring users to copy the movements of an on-screen guide as it tracks the accuracy of the participant. However, this program adapts as patients move forward, increasing difficulty as functionality improves.