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Wii Balance Board can Improve Balance for MS Patients

Update Date: Aug 27, 2014 10:36 AM EDT

Video games are not always bad. Over the past recent years, video games and consoles have added exercise options that help track and monitor the players' progress. In a new study, researchers tested one of these devices, the Nintendo Wii Balance Board and discovered that the board helped improve balance for patients with multiple sclerosis (MS).

MS is a disease that affects the central nervous system, which includes the brain and the spinal cord. In MS, the myelin sheath, which is the protective covering that encases nerve cells, gets damaged. Without the sheath working at full capacity, nerve signals can slow down or stop completely, which can impair balance as well as movement. There is no cure for the illness.

"Balance problems are quite common and arise due to the effects of MS on a number of functions that are important for balance," said Nicholas LaRocca, vice president for health care delivery and policy research with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

In a new study, researchers headed by Dr. Luca Prosperini, a neurologist at Sapienza University in Rome, Italy set out to find a way to improve MS patients' balance without the use of drugs, which can make the symptoms worse. They recruited 27 MS patients who were randomly divided into two groups.

One group acted as the control and did nothing different for 12 weeks. The other group was instructed to use the Wii Balance Board for 30 to 40 minutes a day, five days a week. The participants were then switched to the other group for another 12 weeks. The researchers enlisted 15 volunteers without MS to participate in the Wii Balance Board group. Specialized MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans were used to monitor any changes in the brain.

The researchers found that people who used the board experienced some improvements in their balance. They also had changes in their brains, particularly improvements in the myelin sheath.

"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," Prosperini said in the 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."

He added, reported by WebMD, "Patients with MS should be encouraged to start using this system only under supervision. Once well-trained, they may use it at home."

The researchers cautioned that the study had its limitations. First, it included a very small sample size. Second, brain scans can be difficult to interpret. Third, they did not find a cause and effect relationship.

The study, "Multiple Sclerosis: Changes in Microarchitecture of White Matter Tracts after Training with a Video Game Balance Board," was published in the journal, Radiology. It was funded by the Italian MS Society.

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