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Study: Video games aid post-stroke motor skills

Stroke patients who play video games are up to five times more likely to improve their arm motor function than those who undergo standard physical therapy, data shows.

Boris van Hoytema/Flickr

Researchers around the world have been studying whether interactive video games can improve motor skills since, well, the advent of video games. (For instance, this study on the effects of video games on hand-eye coordination in the elderly was published in 1985.)

But a team out of St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto finds that after analyzing 12 studies looking at the effects of these games on upper arm strength and mobility, stroke patients who game are up to five times as likely to improve arm motor function than those undergoing standard physical therapy.

The meta analysis, published in the April issue of Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association, suggests that video games on systems such as the Wii and PlayStation help the brains of stroke victims recover by improving neuroplasticity--which is the brain's ability to create new nerve cell connections.

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"Recovery of motor skill depends on neurological recovery, adaptation, and learning new strategies," said Gustavo Saposnik, the lead author of the study and the director of the Stroke Outcomes Research Unit at the hospital, in a news release. "Virtual-reality systems drive neuroplasticity and lead to benefits in motor function improvement after stroke."

Seven of the dozen studies monitored patient improvement before and after playing the games, and found a 14.7 percent improvement in patients' grip strength and a 20 percent improvement in standard task performance.

Because most of the studies had small sample sizes, Saposnik says the next step is to conduct a far larger trial; he hopes to randomly assign some 140 patients to either play virtual reality games or undergo standard therapy and dig even further into the results.