Monday, January 24, 2011

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Games and Stroke Rehabilitation

Despite the continued attempts of research to introduce tenuous links between negative behavior and gaming,* it never ceases to amaze me how gaming can also do a lot of good. It's often in the ways I don't expect that gaming actually shines brightest. Not too long ago, a relative of mine suffered a mild stroke which primarily affected language and number processing. Upon entry to rehabilitation, a substantial part of the process came as quite a surprise to me: play games.

You see, exercises like sudoku and crosswords, along with memory games, word games, and even some grade-schoolesque math exercises helped repair that part of the brain that was damaged. While the prescription was primarily for pen and paper activities, a few iPod and iPad apps were also in the mix along with Lumosity. Of course, as soon as I saw the treatment, I immediately started thinking about just how many video games would also fit the bill, and how they might even make for better tracking of progress. Sudoku and crossword apps were obvious, so I thought I would take a minute to share some of the less obvious choices that occurred to me. I don't have any data to report on how successful any particular game is, nor the background to make that kind of analysis or any medical claims, but these games do fulfill the essential functions of their analog counterparts.

  • Everyday Genius: SquareLogic (Steam, App Store) - I list this game first because it was the first that came to my mind, and because I would imagine more stroke victims own iPads than DSs. The game is a logic game of sorts, like the offspring of sudoku grids and math puzzles. But, it presents both the components of the simple math used in rehab as well as the sudoku puzzles. Possibly the most important factor is that the difficulty scale is pretty linear and consistent.
  • Brain Age - What else needs to be said? The game, especially, the math game, is exactly what is being done on paper, but tracked over time.
  • Super Scribblenauts - I disregard the initial entry in the series because the controls were frustrating, to say the least. But the second is, in essence, a giant word puzzle. I've played through quite a bit of the game, and because of the game's huge vocabulary and multiple solutions working for most puzzles, this to me seemed like another potentially ideal candidate.
  • The Professor Layton series -My love for the Layton games notwithstanding, a good chunk of the brain teasers presented are either word puzzles or math puzzles. Perhaps the difficulty makes this more appropriate for later stages of the program, but certainly, it's one of the best brain puzzle games on the market.
I'm sure there are dozens, if not hundreds or thousands (counting apps on all platforms), of examples of games that could be used in this context. Given what I have seen so far, it appears that Apple hasn't had to make any effort to market apps for this kind of rehabilitation, but with the DS library being in many cases so well suited to this kind of recovery program, it makes me wonder if Nintendo should be doing more to reach out to the professionals who work on rehabilitating areas of the brain. After all, the DS is a relatively inexpensive platform, and the games, while not as cheap as apps, are still relatively inexpensive and tend to have a much more robust feature set than comparable apps. In fact, you might be purchasing $30 in apps to get the same number of features or replayability as a an average DS game. With as much attention as has been given to the Wii with respect to rehab, I'm surprised more attention hasn't been paid to the DS in the same regard. I don't have any statistics on the instances of strokes that only impair cognitive function versus those that impact motor function, and perhaps the latter are far more prevalent and thus receive more attention.

In short, should any of you experience the truly unfortunate event of a stroke in the family, and the rehabilitation scheme sounds similar to the one I've described, it may be time to loan that family member a Nintendo DS or point them to some new apps to help them through their rehab process.

*As a note to the above article, I find it far more probable that the depression caused the excessive gaming and low grades, rather than the gaming being the cause of the other two.