Several blogs and news sources are turning up a recent study done at the University of Georgia by Dr. N. Hertz, whereby patients with Parkinsons used Wii and showed significant improvement in motor coordination and affect.
For the eight-week pilot study, 20 Parkinson’s patients spent an hour playing the Wii three times a week for four weeks. By the end of the study, many patients could beat challengers on the games they practiced. It’s already known that exercise and video games independently can increase the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter deficient in Parkinson’s patients. Dr. Hertz sumizes that this is also happening here. What really surprised the researchers was that patients showed little if any depression (a common side effect of Parkinsons).
With what we know about brain plasticity and the ability to rewire connections, it is probably no real surprise that training in a game that emphasizes gross and fine motor coordination created new cortical connections enabling patients to show behavioral improvement. What is new, is the increasing willingness of traditional medicine to look at vehicles that are by design highly motivational, rather than traditional therapies.
So, the next time you play a game, there is probably more going on than you think… your brain is constantly rewiring itself in accordance with what you do. (kind of a scary thought!)