'Canyon Adventure' helps stroke patients

Video game brings specialized therapy into patients' homes

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Worried your kids will spend hours this summer parked in front of a video game?  For patients recovering from various medical problems, that may actually be a good thing.

A growing number of facilities are using video games to help patients recovering from various medical problems.  While all of the games encourage movement, experts say it's not necessarily the type of movement that will help stroke patients the most. 

A team of researchers at Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center set out to change that by designing a brand-new game for Xbox Kinect called "Canyon Adventure." 

It's based on a technique known as constraint-induced movement therapy.  On the hand affected by stroke, researchers put a glove with sensors to control the game.  On their healthy hand is a mitt that prevents patients from using it in the game.

During the game, patients have to paddle a canoe down a river while picking litter out of the water and fending off bats in a cave.  As they get better, the game gets harder.

"This really promotes the person to use their affected side for all their daily activities.  So it really can be conceptualized as 'boot camp' for the affected arm," said researcher Dr. Lynne Gauthier

"Canyon Adventure" is designed to help patients like Nancy Henckle.  When she had a stroke, Henckle lost much of the use of her right hand.  To make matters worse, she never got rehab and often struggled with everyday tasks.

After just one week of playing the game: "I went to the grocery yesterday, I reached up, I could get things.  It's like it's become unfrozen."

Experts say constraining a patient's healthy limb during rehab has proven to be more effective than regular therapy.

"Much more effective, and it promotes long-term gains in motor functioning," said Gauthier.  "It's just not available.  Less than 1 percent of patients are actually able to receive it."

In early tests of "Canyon Adventure," patients averaged 1,500 movements an hour, often without realizing it.

"We always ask them, 'How long do you think you've played?'" said Gauthier.  "Participants will say, 'Oh, you know, maybe 10 minutes,' and some of them have played 40 minutes at that point."

Therapists hope to market "Canyon Adventure" to the public in the coming year.

Canyon Adventure

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