Gaming thearpy

Stroke is no laughing matter. A condition where a blood clot or ruptured artery interrupts blood flow to the brain, stroke often leads to movement impairment as a result of brain damage. The rehabilitation process of post-stroke patients, however, can be fun with the help of motion-sensing video games.

Six stroke patients participated in the trials of KineLabs, a 3D software platform developed by Hong Kong Polytechnic University that makes use of Kinect, an Xbox 360 peripheral that makes motion-sensing video games possible on the popular game console by Microsoft. The device tracks the players' body segments and orientations in three dimensions.

In the virtual reality environment simulated on a TV screen, patients play video games that respond to their bodily movements. In the three games developed by the researchers, Good View Hunting, Hong Kong Chef, and Cockroach Invasion, patients are required to mimic the action of window cleaning, cooking and stepping on cockroaches.

"After playing the games, I feel that I can stand more steadily," says Mr Sam Chick Kin-sang, a stroke patient who suffers paralysis on the left side of his body.

Another stroke patient, Mr Li Tse-shing, says he wishes the games were invented earlier. "The [rehabilitation] exercises I did were very boring."

Dr Leonard Li Sheung-wai, the Head of Division of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University Department of Medicine, Tung Wah Hospital, says that the games are helping to motivate patients in the rehabilitation process.

"Motivation is the key. The more they are willing to participate, the more likely there will be improvements," he says.

In Tung Wah hospital's rehabilitation centre, patients can play Nintendo Wii, a game console akin to Xbox, that records the movement of the bundled wireless remote controller, as a part of their post-stroke therapy.

Dr Li adds that virtual reality therapies for post-stroke patients have been around for about 20 years and a lot of rehabilitation software products are already in use in many rehabilitation centres in the territory.

What makes the KineLabs stand out, Dr Li says, is that KineLabs games save the hassle of patients having to wear special gloves, hold a controller, or stand on a specific footplate in front of a motion sensor to register their movements.

Ms Linda Wong Lai-man, an occupational therapist at the Community Rehabilitation Day Centre of Christian Family Service Centre, thinks the games are beneficial to patients.

She believes that patients can benefit from doing rehabilitation exercises, that is, playing the video games, at home given that they have received approval and guidance from therapists beforehand.

"The games are useful, but it depends on who is using them, and how they are used," says Ms Wong. "It is important to use them wisely."

Dr Wang Chun-xue, editor of Chinese Journal of Stroke and deputy director of the Department of Neurology at Beijing Tiantan Hospital, highlights the importance of guidance from therapists.

"Most stroke patients have poor balance and coordination," says Dr Wang. "They fall easily."

She adds that patients should consult with professionals before playing KineLabs to avoid muscular or joint injuries.

Dr Raymond Tong Kai-yu, Principal Investigator of KineLabs and Associate Professor in Biomedical Engineering at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, says KineLabs can calibrate patients' maximum range of movements in a pre-test and customise the games according to the patient's capability.

As the Silver Award winner in the Hong Kong ICT Awards 2012: Best Innovation & Research Award, KineLabs aims to promote interactive, non-traditional rehabilitation training to home, hospital and elderly centres.

 

Reported by Vanessa Piao

Edited by Roy Chan

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