While we're all used to playing games to relax, spend time with friends, or just tear the flesh from the limbs of our enemies, most of us might not be aware that games are being used for some more serious purposes. Several doctors and institutes are researching using video games in the treatment of patients, from cancer patients to stroke victims to the elderly. While the Wii has opened the market to fitness games, and much of the research does involve that particular console, there are also researchers creating their own games to custom-suit treatments. At this year's GCAP 09 conference, several of these groups got together to discuss and compare their research in several presentations. There were many speakers with very interesting views on 'e-health' research, and we will highlight a few of their presentations.
Dr. Ivan Beale from the University of New South Wales presented a videogame called 'Re-Mission', which was designed for cancer patients, particularly younger patients, to increase their knowledge of cancer, self-care and especially adherence to their treatment. The game is a third person shooter for the PC, where the player takes on the role of a young female nano-robot who is sent into the patient's body to fight the cancer in twenty-two missions. Weapons that the player can use include various medications such as 'an explosive chemo cache' and 'radiation ammunition', and the avatar flies and surfs throughout the levels with the help of her jet-pack. A study of the game's effectiveness showed that there was an improvement in medication and self-care among children using the game, although there has not been a study conducted yet on the game's long-term effectiveness.
Juha Hijmans and Marcus King from Industrial Research Ltd. collaborated with Stickmen Studios to produce an upcoming WiiWare game called Kung Fu Funk, which is aimed at assisting patients with upper limb rehabilitation following a stroke. The limitations of regular Wii games are that they're designed for able-bodied people, which can become frustrating to a patient who is not in complete control of their upper limbs. However, Kung Fu Funk has been built to have six mini-games, with a slow pace, one or two handed play and movements consistent with rehabilitation, to provide a game that stroke victims could conceivably play and hasten their rehabilitation while having fun at the same time. As an extra incentive for players, the famous 'Kung Fu Fighting' song has been officially licensed for use in the game.
Dr. Belinda Lange from the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Industries addressed the accessibility and use of games in a population of people with a disability, and highlighted the importance of developing low-cost rehabilitation games, as the effectiveness of off-the-shelf titles is limited. She showed a game which encouraged specific movements in patients, by allowing them to trace chinese characters on-screen and be rewarded by gaining the object they symbolised in the game, and a game which encouraged post-operative breathing exercises by keeping a paper plane afloat. She also went into detail about VR Exposure Therapy for patients suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Using Full Spectrum Warrior as a basis, this therapy allowed veterens to use a VR headset to experience re-creations of traumatic events, which were under the full control of the the therapist, who could even provoke certain smells and physical feedback through the use of other apparatus. On the other hand, there were also Virtual Humans with voice recognition available for training therapists, who would respond somewhat accurately during virtual therapy sessions. This allows for a more standardised approach to training, rather than using actors as has been previously done.
Upper limb rehabilitation following a stroke using Wii therapy was addressed by Dr. Penelope McNulty from the Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute. She spoke about constraint-induced therapy, which has shown to be quite successful but is frustrating to both therapists and patients, who must constantly wear a mitt on their least-affected side so that they must utilise their most-affected side. Introducing a Wii for the patient to use with their most-affected side has shown to be a very promising solution to encourage this therapy, with observed functional benefits to patients. Enormous improvements in passive and active actions were observed, and the mean patient satisfaction score from the therapy was a 9.4 out of 10. Furthermore, functional ability in the affected side was retained two months after the therapy.
Finally, Dr. Stuart Smith from the Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute discussed using video games to reduce the risk of falls with older adults. Of the older people which suffer falls, 10-15% result in serious injury, and 10% in death. 40% also result in a loss of independance for the older adults in question, being hospitalised to nursing homes. One way to combat this is to get older adults to exercise at home to reduce this risk, and to improve their response time to a loss of a balance. Using a simplified version of Dance Dance Revolution with Frank Sinatra songs among others, Dr. Smith was able to quantify the stepping errors made by patients and overall, they did show improvement. He also spoke of using EA Sports Active in the homes of older adults, and found that with those who used the program, their leg strength improved as well as their confidence, and they in fact used the program more than they were asked to.
These are just a few summaries of the many presentations given on the topic of e-health, as there is a lot of research in the field that is in need of support. You can learn more about these various programs using the following links:
Industrial Research Ltd.
Virtual Rehabilitation Conference 2009
Falls and Balance Research Group