Video Games Boost Balance for MS Patients

Multiple sclerosis patients who used a balance board accessory for a video game console saw changes in brain connections and improved their balance.

Multiple sclerosis patients who used a balance board accessory for a video game console saw changes in brain connections and improved their balance.

Playing video games could help keep multiple sclerosis (MS) patients from falling, the results of a recent study suggest.

In the small study, published online on August 26, 2014, in Radiology, researchers analyzed whether training with the Nintendo Wii Balance Board led to changes in certain connections in the brain, and if these changes led to clinical improvements in balance in mobility among MS patients. A total of 27 patients with MS were split into 2 intervention groups. The first group used the balance board for 30 to 40 minutes a day, 5 days a week. After 12 weeks, the first group stopped using the videogame and the second group began the same training intervention. A group of 15 healthy controls also used the balance boards for 12 weeks. To train, patients stood on the board and moved along with video games, simulating dance, skiing, and other activities.

Patients underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at baseline, 12 weeks, and at the end of the 24-week study period. The researchers then analyzed white matter tracts using diffusion-tensor imaging.

After using the balance boards, significant changes were observed for fractional anisotropy and radial diffusivity of the left and right superior cerebellar peduncles among MS patients. Theses brain changes were correlated with improved balance measures among the patients. When patients stopped using the boards, however, the MRI and clinical changes ceased as well.

Although the sample size was small and patients could potentially fall while using the boards, the authors of the study suggest that the results of the study should impact the rehabilitation process for MS patients.

"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," lead author Luca Prosperini, MD, PhD, said in a press release. "More specifically, the improvements promoted by the Wii balance board can reduce the risk of accidental falls in patients with MS, thereby reducing the risk of fall-related comorbidities like trauma and fractures."

To maintain and improve their mobility, Prosperini suggests that MS patients need continuous exercise.