Whole-body controlled video gaming may help children and adolescents with degenerative ataxia to improve the physical symptoms of their condition, say researchers.
The team, led by Winfried Ilg from the University of Tübingen in Germany, hopes that the findings may provide a novel "interactive and motivational" treatment option for young people with ataxia.
Effective treatments for degenerative ataxia are currently lacking. Studies have shown that intensive regular physiotherapy can improve symptoms in adults, but the degree of efficacy of this treatment is debated and such exercises can be inappropriate for children.
As one major problem with frequent physiotherapy in children can be lack of motivation, Ilg and colleagues carried out a small study to test the efficacy of using three whole-body controlled video games as a substitute for physiotherapy for 10 adolescents (mean age 15.4 years) with progressive spinocerebellar ataxia.
The games were selected based on the motor skills required to play them and aimed to train goal-directed limb movement, dynamic balance, and whole-body coordination.
The study was carried out over 8 weeks, with the first 2 weeks used as a laboratory-based training phase and the last 6 weeks carried out in the children's homes. The participants were asked to train for 1 hour at least four times a week.
As reported in Neurology, the researchers found that the gaming significantly reduced ataxia symptoms at 8 weeks compared with baseline, as measured by the Scale for the Assessment and Rating of Ataxia score, by 2 points on average. Balance capacity, as measured by the dynamic gait index, also improved significantly.
The Activity-specific Balance Confidence scale also showed a tendency for improvement at study completion, but this was not statistically significant.
Ilg and co-authors concede that their study is small and say that further research is needed.
"However, our findings already indicate a highly motivational, cost-efficient and home-based rehabilitation strategy to train dynamic balance and interaction with dynamic environments that might be useful for a large variety of young-onset movement disorders," they conclude.
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