The self-cloning machine

Can video games help heal stroke patients?

A group of scientists have found that stroke patients who play video games get improved real-life bodily co-ordination. The researchers did their experiment with 10 patients who’d all had strokes more than a year previously — a demographic that tends to see very little further improvement. Then, as the Boston Globe reports, the scientists had the patients play virtual-reality games, with surprising results:

The patients in the study, which appeared in Thursday’s issue of the journal Stroke, all had weakness on one side of their body. Researchers randomly assigned them to a control group or a virtual reality group. The control group got no intervention while the virtual reality group used the video training for an hour a day, five days a week for more than a month. [snip]

One game simulated going up and down stairs, another let the patient go deep-sea diving with sharks and the third recreated snowboarding by simulating gliding down a narrow slope, jumping and avoiding obstacles.

The five patients who played the games improved in walking, standing and climbing steps, researchers said. Also, brain imaging done before and after the experiment indicated a reorganization of brain function after the therapy, said lead author, Sung H. You, assistant professor of physical therapy at Hampton University in Hampton, Va.

Dig it: Merely rehearsing a physical motion in your mind is enough to help heal your body! Of course, maybe this shouldn’t be so surprising. Athletes have long argued that mental rehearsal is key to prepping for real-life activity, and brain-scanners have recently found that when well-trained athletes meditate on their moves, the motor cortexes in their brains fire up in a fashion that seems indistinguishable from when they’re actually performing the act.

(Thanks to Debbie for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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