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Kate PaquinKate Paquin followed the progress of 10 stroke patients who played Wii video games twice a week over an eight week period.

Video game helps motor skills in stroke patients, researcher finds

A graduate student in kinesiology has discovered that playing Wii video games improves the fine motor skills of people who are recovering from strokes.

“It’s wonderful,” master’s student Kate Paquin said of her study results. “On average, all of their skills improved and they perceived their quality of life to be better. It was overwhelmingly positive.”

Paquin, who defended her thesis Friday, monitored the progress of 10 stroke patients enrolled in the chronic disease management program the Windsor-Essex Community Health Centre runs at the St. Denis Centre.

“Kate had been volunteering there and recognized the need for something that would enhance their fine motor skills,” said professor Sean Horton, her academic supervisor.

The participants – whose average age was 72 – had all suffered a stroke at least a year earlier, and were taking part in a physical rehabilitation program, which also includes a neural stop on the circuit. Paquin, who works part-time at Future Shop and loves video games, wondered if playing a Nintendo Wii would help those people.

“It was a great way to mix both of those worlds and it couldn’t have worked out better,” she said.

Over eight weeks, participants played Wii games twice a week for 15-minute sessions. They played Marble Mania, a virtual tilt maze game that emphasizes wrist stability; Alien Splat, which uses the accessory uDraw game tablet and calls on players to use a stylus to squish “alien” bugs with a virtual fly swatter; and Sponge Bob SquarePants, which consists of about 20 games that involve flipping over cards and drawing lines in a sequence, flicking and circular motions, which all measure for precision and reaction time.

Prior to playing the video games, each participant was tested on their fine motor skills in order to obtain baseline data on their ability. Standardized measures such as the Jebsen Hand function test, which consists of functions that mimic daily activity, like putting one pound cans on a board, flipping cards, and scooping beans, were used, as well as box and block, and 9-hole peg tests.

Participants were measured at the beginning, middle, and end of their eight-week Wii sessions and all of them demonstrated varying levels of improvement in the standardized fine motor skills performance tests, Paquin said.

In addition to those tests, participants completed an 18-item questionnaire on their quality of life, and all of them recorded improvements in their levels of happiness and confidence, she added.

Paquin, who wants to continue working with stroke patients after she graduates, said she hopes the Wii games will continue to be used in the rehabilitation program and that more stroke patients will consider using them as a way to recover.

“This is a population that doesn’t have much for them,” she said. “It’s not a super-expensive system. It’s engaging and motivating and helpful.”

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