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Adding to earlier research, a new study suggests balance therapy using Nintendo Wii can be helpful to patients with cerebral palsy.

Wii is a home video game console produced by Nintendo and introduced around 2006.  The device includes a wireless controller with motion sensors.  The popular game was marketed for fun and to promote movement while game playing.  Games like Wii Fit help players burn more energy, while others have been used for rehabilitation and physical therapy for patients with cerebral palsy, or who suffer mobility impact from stroke, or Parkinson’s disease.

One group of researchers took a more recent look at Wii therapy used to assist cerebral palsy patients with functional balance. Cerebral palsy is a permanent, non-progressive disorder that occurs as a result of variables during development of the fetal brain or insults to the infant brain such as anoxic injury, (lack of oxygen) during birth.

The study, published in Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, evaluated data from 11 trials that involved 270 children with cerebral palsy. Overall, the paper adds to the body of research that supports the Wii as a helpful tool for balance training. Research findings include:

  • Children with cerebral palsy experience a benefit with balance from programs involving the Wii.  Children using the Wii to improve balance showed greater improvement than those receiving conventional physical therapy (PT) alone.
  • Evidence supports Wii functional balance training along with conventional PT as the best intervention.
  • PT and Wii programs should be longer than three weeks with individual session lengths of about 30 minutes.

Study authors look to neuroplasticity as the basis for success of the Wii in therapy, noting, “We suggest that the benefits [Wii] produces in the brain cortex are due to the principles of neuroplasticity and motor learning. Several neuroimaging studies have suggested that the use of virtual reality tools applied to neurorehabilitation can induce brain plasticity and cortical reorganization in CP. The study notes that a type of neuron, called a mirror neuron, plays a role in neuro and sensory stimulation during Wii sessions. 

Dr. Esteban Obrero-Gaitán, who is corresponding author on the research said, “Our results suggest that Nintendo® Wii therapy may be a useful tool that can be included in neurorehabilitation physiotherapy protocols to improve balance in children with cerebral palsy.”

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