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Neuroscientists develop video game for stroke recovery

Stroke experts in the U.K. work with Limbs Alive to develop the first in a collection of action video games that encourage movements to relearn arm and hand control.

After a stroke, it is often possible -- with months of therapy and determination -- for the brain to relearn how to control a weakened limb. Finding the resources (therapist, finances, time) can be the bigger hurdle.

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

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

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

"Patients need to be able to use both their arms and hands for most everyday activities such as doing up a zip, making a bed, tying shoe laces, 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 that 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.

"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. Perhaps 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 help tailor his or her next steps.

For those in wheelchairs or with limited mobility, making the game convenient as well as fun could be key to recovery.