UK charity investigating benefits of Wii to those suffering from Parkinson’s

Parkinson’s UK has awarded an innovation grant of nearly £35,000 to Dr Cathy Craig at the School of Psychology, Queen’s University in Belfast, for which the money is to be used to investigate the potential benefits of the Nintendo Wii for people with Parkinson’s.

Such an investment has been made following “overwhelming feedback” that those suffering from the debilitating disease have found that using the Wii is the perfect way to encourage exercise around the home, and in doing so has allowed them to improve their balance, movement and mood.

Current research already shows that those that exercise may protect the nerve cells that are dying due to Parkinson’s, therefore allowing them to work more efficiently and survive longer.

In a recent poll of those suffering from Parkinson’s and use the Wii, eight out of ten (81%) said that they use it for exercise with two-thirds (68%) of these stating that they felt it helped them manage their symptoms. One in three (30%) of respondents stated that they use the Wii every day, while 39% use it at least once a week.

Karen Rose, 47, from Bristol, is currently amidst those being featured within Nintendo’s real story TV adverts. She started using the Wii a couple of years ago and regularly uses the Wii Fit. She commented, “Keeping moving is really important because of the stiffness. By doing the Wii I find that you loosen up the muscles that are constantly spasming.”

“Most people with Parkinson’s find that they lose their confidence,” she continues. “So I tend to do exercise at home. I’ve got all the benefits of a gym, but I can do it to fit in with my lifestyle and my medication. It gives you a burst somehow, and it makes you feel better, and then you have a better day.”

Oscar-winning actress Helen Mirren, who is appearing within Nintendo’s Christmas advertising campaign for Wii Fit, revealed that a good friend of hers was diagnosed with Parkinson’s about 10 years ago. Such a personal connection to the disease is the reason that she’s interested in how the Wii can help people with Parkinson’s with their balance and she welcomes the on-going research.

Dr Craig’s team aims are to evaluate the benefits of existing games using Wii technology and harness the power of this movement based game technology to develop their own specially designed bespoke games to be used by people with Parkinson’s.

The research will address two questions:
* Does the use of the Wii system improve the physical abilities and lifestyle of people with Parkinson’s?
* How do the various games improve specific symptoms of Parkinson’s including tremor, slowness of movement and balance?

Two groups of people with Parkinson’s will participate within the research, with one being asked to use the existing Wii system and a second trying out new, specially designed bespoke movement-based games.

Dr Craig explains, “Our hope is to harness the benefits of the Wii technology to develop a system designed specifically for people with Parkinson’s. If the project is successful the benefits could be twofold. It could allow us to develop a simple way to assess Parkinson’s symptoms yet provide a safe and effective way for people with the condition to be more active and keep fit.”

Dr Kieran Breen, Director of Research and Development at Parkinson’s UK, adds “Exercise can help people with Parkinson’s to control movements, improve balance and improve their mood and we are hearing of more and more people who are finding it of benefit, and this research will explore the science behind it. ”

“It could lead to more people feeling confident about using the Wii in the comfort of their homes,” Breen continues. “The Wii also has the potential to be used as a way of measuring the symptoms for Parkinson’s in future clinical trials of other treatments.”

“This is just the kind of innovative research we like to fund to help improve life for people affected by Parkinson’s, while we search for that all important cure.”

Written by
After starting out with a Yellow Game Boy and a copy of Donkey Kong Land, Alex once hid in his room to play The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time one Christmas. Now he shares his thoughts on Nintendo Insider, keeping track of everything to do with Nintendo.

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