Prosperini was inspired to study a video game treatment for MS when he saw patients in rehabilitation using a balance-boosting system that reminded him of an old Atari video game. Then a commercial about the Wii Balance Board caught his attention. The balance board, shaped a bit like a weight scale, detects a person's movements and allows them to be translated into action on a TV screen.
Prosperini tried to get a grant from Nintendo to support research. The company wasn't interested, he said, but he obtained funding from the Italian MS Society.
His previous research has supported the idea that patients regain balance when they use the Wii Balance Board. The new study aimed to understand what's happening in their brains.
In the new study, published online Aug. 26 in Radiology, 27 MS patients were split into two groups. One group spent three months doing nothing special while the other group played with the Wii Balance Board for 30 to 40 minutes daily, five days a week. Then the groups reversed roles: Those who had done nothing special used the balance board for three months, while the others stopped using it.
Another 15 healthy people tried the system, too.
All participants had specialized MRI scans to detect any physiological changes in the brain.
The researchers found that patients regained some balance, presumably by using the board, and their brains actually changed. Using the video game was tied to improvements in the protective sheath around nerves, leading to better conduction of impulses between the body and brain, Prosperini said.
It's not clear if other kinds of training might also help MS patients regain balance, he said. But video games like those that use the balance board might have similar benefits because they require patients to mimic movements that they see on screen, potentially providing an extra brain boost.
LaRocca, of the MS Society,
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