Video games can do much more than pacify young children or cause teens to disappear for hours at a time. Among other health and medical applications, they can help stroke victims with their recovery. Earlier this year, we wrote about Neuroreality’s Koji, a virtual reality game that helps recovering stroke patients with cognitive function. A research team from several American universities published a study in eClinicalMedicine that found telehealth sessions combined with video game home play helped stroke patients recover motor skills.

The researchers in the more recent study assessed the relative effectiveness in stroke patient motor skills recovery with Recovery Rapids, a motion-sensing video game developed by Games That Move You. In the game, players navigate a river in a virtual kayak. Players learn to control the kayak by swaying their bodies back and forth and side to side and by moving their arms to simulate actions such as paddling, rowing, and reaching. Motion sensors track players’ arm and body motion. The challenges on the river get more difficult as the player progresses.

The motor skills study included 167 stroke patients from five different sites. The patients all had strokes at least six months prior to the treatment and had mild to moderate upper extremity hemiparesis: weakness on one side of the body. The researchers provided the patients with three weeks of one of four types of intervention: 5 hours of traditional motor-focused rehabilitation, 5 hours of behaviorally-focused tele-rehabilitation with self-managed gaming, 5 hours of behaviorally-focused tele-rehabilitation with tele-gaming, or 35 hours of constraint-induced therapy in a clinical setting.

The team assessed patients’ arm use and motor speed and function immediately before and after the treatment period and then again six months later. The study found slight differences in arm use scores between the four intervention modes, but after six months all four groups averaged 57% retention of their arm use improvements. The four groups also showed 92% retention in motor speed and function measurements. The most significant takeaway from the study was that self-managed gaming combined with telehealth had similar positive outcomes to conventional therapies, including the much more time-intensive in-clinic constraint-induced therapy.

The study notes that four members of the research team were co-founders of Games That Move You. To counter concerns about conflict of interest, the Internal Review Boards from Ohio State University, Missouri University, Providence Medford Medical Center, University of Alabama Birmingham, and OhioHealth provided ethical oversight.

According to motor skills gaming study team member Rachel Proffitt, assistant professor in the Missouri University School of Health Professions, “With this new at-home gaming approach, we are cutting costs for the patient and reducing time for the therapist while still improving convenience and overall health outcomes, so it’s a win-win.”