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Video games may help ease Parkinson’s symptoms

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Photo credit: Red Hill Studios

The health benefits of video games are adding up quickly.

Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco have launched an experimental program to determine whether video games could replace existing exercises for patients with Parkinson's disease.

It's already well known in the medical community that exercise and physical therapy can help ease the tremors and other symptoms of the disease, but getting patients to stick with the routines can be difficult.

The game exercises, seen in this clip on CNET, aren't tied to existing commercial video games, but instead are part of a custom program using Microsoft's Kinect peripheral. Game developer Red Hill Studios, who also makes software for Cerebral Palsy patients and edutainment games for high school students, worked with researchers to develop the program.

"People very much like doing the games," says Glenna Dowling, a professor and chairperson of the Department of Physiological Nursing at UCSF. "They find them engaging, fun and therapeutic."

The study found that Parkinson's patients are more likely to play the games at home than follow a standard exercise regimen. After playing the games for 12 weeks, 65 percent of patients had longer strides and 55 percent had improved balance.

The games could be publicly available as early as next fall.

This is hardly the first study to showcase the positive effects of games on people's well being. Earlier this year, the American Journal of Preventive Medicine issued a study that found select video games may have positive mental benefits for older adults and could help stave off dementia.

"We found that for older adults, virtual reality enhanced interactive exercise, or 'cybercycling' two to three times per week for three months, yielded greater cognitive benefit, and perhaps added protection against mild cognitive impairment, than a similar dose of traditional exercise," said Cay Anderson-Hanley, head researcher on that project and a psychologist at Union College in Schenectady, NY.

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