Recent Studies Indicate that Video Games Can Help Touch Sensitivity and Upper Body Movement of Children with Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy (CP) is reportedly the most common physical disability in children. It is a movement disorder associated with a number of symptoms including difficulty with gross motor skills (e.g. walking), difficulty with fine motor skills (e.g. writing, eating), difficulty speaking, involuntary movements, breathing problems, and poor bladder control. It can also be accompanied by cognitive or intellectual impairments, depending on the areas of brain injury.

Various treatments are available to improve movement in children with CP, including things such as physical therapy. Two recent studies point to video games as a method of encouraging movement that parents of children with cerebral palsy (CP) can try as part of a broader overall treatment strategy.

Traditional Physical Treatments for Cerebral Palsy

Most commonly used treatments for children with CP involve physical or movement therapy to exercise muscles throughout the body in order to improve muscle stiffness and movement control.

Video Games, Upper Body Movement and Cerebral Palsy

A 2016 study that appeared in the journal Behavioural Sciences suggested that video games, used in combination with physical or movement therapy, might be able to improve upper body movement in children with CP.

The Study’s Focus

The study noted that traditional movement therapy is often used to help improve upper body mobility in children with CP. Experts note that this form of treatment generally involves high intensity, repetitive tasks. Video games could make repetitive tasks more appealing.

The study looked at four children with CP (aged 8-17). Scientists, led by Marissa Sevick of Creighton Pediatric Therapy in Omaha, Nebraska and researchers from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, used videogames in conjunction with a motion sensor and specialized software to detect range of motion.

Preliminary Findings

The researchers reported that the children were highly motivated to play the video games, but ultimately did not include measurements of whether their motor function improved with the use of video games. The researchers concluded that:

the use of inexpensive hardware and software in conjunction with free Internet video games has the potential to be very motivating in helping to improve the upper extremity abilities of children with CP.

The researchers were careful to note that while the initial results were promising, further studies were needed with a larger pool of participants.

Video Games and Touch Sensitivity

A more recent study is part of a PhD project conducted by a student in Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia whose doctoral studies focus on how children with CP use their hands.

The Study’s Focus

The researcher noted that children with CP may be less sensitive to touch than other children, and may have challenges knowing where their hand is relative to other parts of their body (known as proprioception). Their lack of sensitivity may also cause difficulties with manipulating and recognizing objects using only their hands. He further noted that most children with CP generally have a dominant hand (which they use for all activities) and a non-dominant hand. The non-dominant hand is usually the target of therapy since improving its function should lead to increased independence for the child.

The researcher and his team tested the effect of playing serious video games (whose purpose is to improve physical ability and health) on children with CP. He notes that this type of game has been used for children with CP before, but never to measure touch and hand sensitivity.

The research team designed the OrbIT gaming system, a home-based system specifically designed for children with limited hand function. OrbIT involves a spherical or orb-shaped controller connected to a lap-top loaded with custom-made computer games. It is intended to promote accessibility. The controller is simple to use and does not require finger dexterity and control. Rather, it detects when children remove their hands from its surface, and the game pauses until both of a child’s hands are placed on top of it again.

Preliminary Findings

The researchers tested the OrbIT console among kids with CP and their families in Adelaide for a month and a half. Results showed that, after the use of OrbIT, patients’ non-dominant hands performed better in testing of hand function and manipulation. However, the team did note that a larger study is needed to validate the system’s effect on touch and hand sensitivity.

Other Notable Findings

In addition to the preliminary findings about the system’s effect on hand function and manipulation, the research team also noted several other effects.

For instance, parents made several positive observations during the time they had the OrbIT in their homes, including:

  • One child who had begun to talk more during the trial period as he would be giving his sister tips on how to improve her game play; and
  • A different child who began to speak to visitors about his CP when they commented on the game console.

The researchers hope that as video games, technology, and smart devices become even more ubiquitous than they are now, people, including children with CP will be gaming not just for fun but also for their health and physical development.

At Sommers, Roth & Elmaleh, our goal is to obtain compensation and financial security for families whose lives have been impacted by cerebral palsy. Over the years, we have won some of the largest medical malpractice awards in Canadian history for our clients.

As one of the oldest medical malpractice firms in Toronto, we are well-established and highly respected in the medical malpractice field and have helped clients from all across Canada, including Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Quebec and Newfoundland. We offer contingency fee agreements. Call us at 1-416-961-1212 or contact us online for a free consultation.

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