Nintendo Wii beneficial in balance rehab for patients with multiple sclerosis

Use of the Nintendo Wii balance board system can induce positive brain changes and lower the risk of accidental falls in patients with multiple sclerosis, according to a recently published study.

A total of 27 patients with multiple sclerosis took part in a 12-week intervention, using the Nintendo Wii balance board system – a battery-powered device about the size of a bathroom scale. Users stood on the board and shifted their weight, following on-screen action.

Researchers used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to study brain changes in each patient. DTI is a nonconventional, MRI technique that allows detailed analysis of white matter tracts, which transmit nervous signals through the brain and body. MRI scans showed significant improvements in balance and movement. Results were based on an assessment technique called posturography.

“The most important finding in this study is that a task-oriented and repetitive training aimed at managing a specific symptom is highly effective and induces brain plasticity,” Luca Prosperini, PhD, of Sapienza University in Rome and lead author of the study, stated in a press release. “More specifically, the improvements promoted by the Wii balance board can reduce the risk of…fall-related comorbidities like trauma and fractures.”

Findings suggest that changes in brain activity were likely a manifestation of neural plasticity, but also could occur at the cellular level of the brain and may be related to myelination. Improvements did not persist after the patients discontinued training. Prosperini said this is because certain skills related to structural changes to the brain need to be maintained through training.

Little is known about the underlying physiological basis for improvements in balance based on Nintendo Wii rehabilitation, but Prosperini said physical rehabilitation in MS patients should be continued.

“This finding should have an important impact on the rehabilitation process of patients, suggesting that they need ongoing exercises to maintain good performance in daily living activities,” he said.

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