Rohrman took to the games immediately—and
played at home with his wife. His goal was to walk his
daughter down the aisle without the halting gait he
use video gaming
to improve mobility
By Star Lawrence
PARKINSON’S DISEASE OCCURS when parts of
the brain don’t make enough of the chemical dopamine, which affects muscle movement. About half of
Parkinson’s sufferers also suffer depression.
In a 1998 study done in England, a link between
video gaming and dopamine production was established. This has led to at least two university investigations of how gaming can affect the progression
Nathan Herz, a doctor of occupational therapy
at Georgia Health Sciences University in Augusta,
started using video games as a warm-up for
Parkinson’s patients in occupational therapy. The
results seemed pronounced, so he began a separate
investigation, focusing on the full-motion sports
games played on the Nintendo Wii (pronounced
“we”), using a remote (or “Wii-mote”) that is
wielded like a racquet, bowling ball or other sports
equipment. Herz, a Costco member, recruited 20
subjects with Parkinson’s. Before starting their regimen, the study participants were tested on alternate-hand reaction time, inserting pegs in holes, gait and
balance, and walk-sit-walk. Then they played Wii
games for 45 minutes to an hour three times a week.
Retiree Bob Rohrman, diagnosed with Parkinson’s six years ago, was one of those recommended
for the study. The Georgia resident already had a
console, which he had purchased for his grandchildren to play with when they visited. In Herz’s lab,
Rohrman played Nintendo tennis, bowling and boxing for the hour-long period. “All the games are
good,” he says. “Golf, fishing, baseball—they all help.”
Reducing the risk of falls health for your
fall each year, and falls
and related trauma are
the leading cause of
These tactics can keep
people with Parkinson’s
on steady ground:
had developed from the disorder. He did it, and the
memory still brings tears to his eyes.
Herz says his study results show the gold-stan-dard “quality of life” scale for the patients in the
study was significantly better. Depression went to
zero. Statistics showed that the motivation to “get up
and walk” also was much improved.
“I think they get an endorphin effect,” Herz
says, “like a runner’s high.” He likes the commercial
games because they have a dramatic presence that
intrigues the user and prevents boredom.
Registered nurse Glenna Dowling, a professor
and chair of the Department of Physiological
Nursing at the University of California, San
Francisco, got interested 15 years ago when she was
providing gait and balance training once a week.
Dowling, a Costco member, went to Red Hill
Studios, a game developer, which, with funding from
the National Institutes of Health, created nine games
with five levels of difficulty aimed specifically at
movements particularly affected by Parkinson’s. Not
available commercially at this time, these games
involve wearing a sensor suit to measure movements
and feed the information back to researchers. “It is
important to do the movements correctly,” Dowling
notes. She says she was surprised at the zeal with
which her subjects embraced the gaming.
Both researchers plan to publish their findings.
Dowling is planning a one-year trial. Her preliminary results show that the time to “get up and walk”
was cut by a third in those who participated in the
three-month study. Herz is seeking additional funding to do similar studies at multiple sites. He also has
formed a group (AbleGamers; www.ablegamers.
com) to promote video gaming for disabled people
with a variety of problems.
“This is just my opinion,” Herz continues, “but
I think video gaming is the future of rehab.” C
Take part in vigorous
exercise and physical
therapy to improve
balance and motor
Take wider turns to
help maintain balance around corners.
and area rugs.
Smooth, hard floors
can help reduce falls.
and other tripping
Avoid walking with
hands full. Walk with
both hands free to
Stand with feet
Rubber soles can up
tripping risk. Wear
shoes with smooth
leather soles instead.
Avoid shoes with
high heels or straps
that can break or
The Costco Connection
Items to aid with exercise, as well as Wii-style
video games and equipment, are available at most
Costco locations and on Costco.com.
Source: Michael Sellman, M.D.,
chief of neurology at Mercy
Medical Center in Baltimore
Star Lawrence is a medical journalist based
in the Phoenix area.