Videogame with animated tree helps stroke patients walk again

November 27, 2012

By SEINOSUKE IWASAKI/ Staff Writer

At senior care facilities and rehabilitation facilities, stroke patients may soon be enjoying a videogame that helps them walk again by challenging them to stand while having fun.

Kyushu University and a private hospital developed a videogame that utilizes an in-game voice that directs the player to alternately stand up and sit down, which causes a tree-like character on the screen to grow.

The goal is to maintain motor function by getting patients to keep up a simple rehabilitation routine with enjoyable visual and audio cues.

"(The patients) are happier," one practicing occupational therapist said of the game.

The videogame is called "Rehabilium Kiritsu-kun." Using the Kinect, Microsoft's hands-free, interactive game hardware for its Xbox 360 console, the device's camera monitors the player's standing exercises to display the number of repetitions on the screen. The videogame also comes with a personal RFID tag that patients can place over a sensor to manage and print out their exercise history and a certificate of their rank.

The idea for the animated tree that grows as the game progresses came from a scene in the 1988 Hayao Miyazaki classic animated film "My Neighbor Totoro."

Nagao Hospital in Fukuoka asked Kyushu University to help develop the videogame because standing exercises are very effective at restoring a stroke patient's ability to walk. When a beta version was tested by 82 patients at the hospital and an affiliated senior facility, playing the game increased the number of repetitions they could perform by an average of 17 to 23 percent.

The addition of a ranking feature caused some players to get so absorbed in the videogame that the developers made RFID tags to limit how many times they could play.

"(The videogame) stimulates a sense of rivalry," another occupational therapist said.

Hiroyuki Matsuguma, 41, an assistant professor at Kyushu University's Graduate School of Design who was involved in developing Rehabilium Kiritsu-kun, said there could be more "serious games" in the future with greater social significance--not just to play and have fun.

While there is equipment that has players hit targets with their hands and feet, like the Whac-A-Mole arcade game, Matsuguma said this new videogame for rehabilitation is a rarity. And one of its selling points is that it only requires a single piece of software.

"Some people stop their rehabilitation because they only do it 'for my body,' " Matsuguma said. "When you consider that the 'videogame generation' will grow old in the future, there's going to be demand for software that developers have added gaming elements to."

Medicus Shuppan Publishers Co. in Osaka will begin selling the videogame in December. The price range under consideration is 100,000 to 150,000 yen ($1,270 to $1,900).

By SEINOSUKE IWASAKI/ Staff Writer
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As the player sits and stands, the tree-like character on the screen grows in a new rehabilitation therapy videogame at Kyushu University's Ohashi Campus in Fukuoka. (Seinosuke Iwasaki)

As the player sits and stands, the tree-like character on the screen grows in a new rehabilitation therapy videogame at Kyushu University's Ohashi Campus in Fukuoka. (Seinosuke Iwasaki)

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  • As the player sits and stands, the tree-like character on the screen grows in a new rehabilitation therapy videogame at Kyushu University's Ohashi Campus in Fukuoka. (Seinosuke Iwasaki)

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