YOUR HEALTH: Video games that help stroke victims recover

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Jeremy Reynolds is serious about his screen time and with good reason.

His video game is designed to help him recover from a stroke he suffered in 2015.

"I lost a lot of the use of my right arm, mainly my right hand."

That made everyday activities difficult to do.

That is why Reynolds is taking part in a clinical trial to see if an at-home video game therapy is as effective as traditional methods of therapy.

Only 10% of people who suffer a stroke fully recover.

The game, called "Recovery Rapids", has patients perform a series of tasks designed to exercise the affected body part, while avoiding the use of the opposite working limb.

"So to break that habit of using the less affected side of the body to accomplish activities," explained Dr. Gitendra Uswatte, a professor of Psychology and Physical Therapy at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

"Recovery Rapids" is based off of constraint-induced movement, or C-I therapy, where a patient is encouraged to use his affected arm more often, and limit use of his stronger limb.

"Patients go from using their arm five to ten percent of the time compared to their stroke before treatment to 50% of the time," said Dr. Uswatte.

But C-I therapy is expensive.

This at-home video game are not.

"The costs are reduced because a therapist doesn't have to be involved for the whole treatment period," said Dr. Uswatte.

The patient wears an activity tracker that detects movements, which are projected onto the avatar in the game.  That's scoring points with Reynolds.

"Putting the therapy in the form of the video game potentially allows us to get this effective treatment out to many, many
patients."  - Dr. Gitendra Uswatte

"It was a lot easier for me to do the video game than have a list of exercises. It was a fun way to accomplish what I was trying to do."

Professor Uswatte says there doesn't seem to be a limit as to how long after a stroke someone can benefit from C-I therapy.

C-I THERAPY:  This therapy involves constraining movements of the less-affected arm, usually with a sling or mitt for 90% of waking hours, while intensively inducing the use of the more-affected arm.   Concentrated, repetitive training of the more-affected limb is usually performed for six hours a day for a two to three week period. Stroke Engine says that compliance of the patient for the rigorous restraint and training schedule, as well as the required intensity of therapy provided by therapists in a clinical setting are important issues to consider.

Eligible patients for ongoing trials (you can contact Dr. Uswatte by clicking here) have to be more than six months after their stroke and will have to have the ability to partially open and close their hand, and some movement of the wrist, elbow and shoulder.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.