Randomized trials are ones where similar patients are randomly assigned to a certain treatment group -- such as playing video games -- while others are assigned to a different kind of group. These trials look for a specific outcome over a certain period of time.
Among stroke patients in observational studies, those playing virtual reality games improved their upper arm strength by 14.7 percent and motor function -- or the ability to perform standard tasks -- by 20 percent.
Those in the randomized trials who played virtual reality games had a 4.89 times greater chance of improving arm strength, compared with those did not play these games but had standard rehabilitation, the researchers found.
Treatment varied in each study, however, most patients played 20 to 30 hours over four to six weeks of therapy, the authors noted. The systems used included three traditional video game systems (Glasstron, IREX, PlayStation Eye Toy) and nine virtual reality systems (including Virtual Teacher, CyberGlove, VR Motion, PneuGlove and Wii).
Saposnik also noted that some studies looked at video gaming used in addition to standard therapy, something he said may have skewed the results somewhat in favor of the new therapy.
Video gaming may help stroke patients because of the brain's unusual potential for remodeling, in which it creates new nerve cell connections, some studies suggest. What is needed for such remodeling, recent research indicates, is training that is challenging, repetitive, task-specific, novel and motivating -- all hallmarks of virtual reality games, which can also give immediate real-time feedback.
"Our study confirms the potential benefit of virtual reality in stroke rehabilitation identified in small studies," Saposnik said. "Further larger randomized trials are needed before changing practice. However, we are [going] in the right direction," he added.
Commenting on the study, Dr. Ralph L. Sacco, presi
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