Microsoft’s Kinect motion tracking system has served up some great experiences for gamers, but the technology behind it has also given rise to innovations that are transforming lives.
As you may have read previously on Neowin, Kinect has proven to be an invaluable tool in helping stroke survivors. Last year, we reported on the remarkable efforts of a man who developed special software that enabled his mother to be able to send text messages using Kinect, after a stroke left her suffering with aphasia, a condition that severely impairs the brain’s ability to recognise and understand text. Earlier this year, we covered the pioneering research at a British university that aims to use Kinect to help stroke survivors recover from facial paralysis.
This week, researchers at Ohio State University’s (OSU) Wexner Medical Center revealed their own developments using the Microsoft device which, it is hoped, will revolutionize the rehabilitation process for hundreds of thousands of people.
A common effect of a stroke is hemiparesis, which can reduce the ability of individuals to move one side of their body, making the simplest everyday tasks – such as getting dressed and eating – incredibly difficult. America’s National Stroke Association says that this condition affects 325,000 people each year in the US alone, and the most effective treatment – known as constraint-induced movement therapy, or CI therapy – is only available to less than one percent of those who need it.
Lynne Gauthier, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at OSU, explained: “Lack of access, transportation and cost are contributing barriers to CI therapy. To address this disparity, our team developed a 3D gaming system to deliver CI therapy to patients in their homes.”
The OSU team developed their own game, called Canyon Adventure, which incorporates elements of CI therapy while engaging participants in gameplay tasks, such as rowing down a river, fishing or even chasing falling parachutes containing valuable supplies. These tasks require the participant to perform high-repetition movements using the affected hand and arm; the less-affected hand is covered by a padded mitt for ten hours a day to promote use of – and improvements in – the other hand.
For those of us used to more engrossing and extreme gameplay experiences, Canyon Adventure may look rather tame by comparison, but as a means of engaging patients, it seems to be a remarkably effective tool. Gauthier noted that while playing the game, “patients have reported they have more motivation, time goes by quicker and the challenges are exciting and not so tedious.” Nancy Henckle, a stroke survivor who has been participating in the trials said: “It’s amazing. I get so caught up in the game, I forget how hard I’m working.”
Encouragingly, Gauthier says that the Kinect-based approach has actually proven “much more effective” than regular therapy. It is hoped that, with further research, the gaming therapy may also be extended to improve rehabilitation for patients with traumatic brain injuries, cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis.