Wii Balance Boards Could Help Manage Multiple Sclerosis

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Photo: MarioAnzuoni/Corbis

Sure, “gamified” health apps are a big question mark at this point, overall. But the fact that so many video-game consoles now have hardware that allows for movement-based gaming opens up a lot of doors to health-promoting activities in the home. One intriguing example, reported in a new study in the journal Radiology, involved multiple sclerosis patients and the Nintendo Wii balance board, which, as the name implies, allows users to engage in a bunch of balance-based strength and fitness activities.

One of the (many) difficult things about M.S. is the way it robs patients of their balance, which of course opens up a whole host of other difficulties and dangers. The researchers used a Wii balance board to have subjects engage in visual feedback training — basically, adjusting their position based on what they were seeing on the screen — and got some intriguing results.

To the press release:

Researchers recently used an MRI technique called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to study changes in the brains of 27 MS patients who underwent a 12-week intervention using Wii balance board-based visual feedback training. DTI is a non-conventional MRI technique that allows detailed analysis of the white matter tracts that transmit nervous signals through the brain and body.

MRI scans of the MS patients showed significant effects in nerve tracts that are important in balance and movement. The changes seen on MRI correlated with improvements in balance as measured by an assessment technique called posturography.

It appears a lot of homes now have some pretty potent, relatively low-cost health-promoting gadgets. It’s up to the folks designing the software to figure out how to best put them to use.

Wii Balance Boards Could Help Manage M.S.