Games in Healthcare

Nintendo Wii, DS Used to Treat Diabetes, Heart Disease, Parkinson's

Didget from BayerResearchers from Bayer HealthCare, the American Heart Association and the Medical College of Georgia have developed new tools for Nintendo’s main gaming platform, Wii, as well as the DS handheld to help address health issues like Diabetes, first aid, Parkinson’s Disease and depression.

Bayer has launched the Didget, a glucose meter for kids living with diabetes which plugs into a DS or DS Lite. The device includes a game called Knock 'Em Downs: The World's Fair, an adventure game that gets progressively unlocked as children monitor their blood sugar levels. Read More...

Targeted at children ages 5 to 14, Didget also offers several mini arcade games. The device connects through the GBA slot of the DS and is based on Bayer’s CONTOUR blood glucose meter. It was developed with the contribution of Paul Wessel, the parent of a child with type 1 diabetes. Wessel noticed that although his son Luke constantly lost track of his blood glucose meter, he could always find his Game Boy.

The device is available for purchase online from Bayer HealthCare and sells for £29.99 (approximately $50 USD).

The American Heart Association is funding researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham to develop software using the Wii Remote to teach proper CPR technique. The development team expects to finalize the program in fall 2009, which will be downloadable for free on the Association’s website.

"We began talking about the possibility of using the Nintendo Wii to teach CPR last January, and that is when we initially contacted the American Heart Association about the idea," said Greg Walcott, M.D., associate professor of medicine at Alabama.

"The Heart Association wanted a better sense of how it might work, so we assigned the research to our senior year biomedical engineering students this past spring semester for their senior project."

A similar tool was released by the American Heart Association in early July, for the iPhone/iPod Touch platform. The Pocket First Aid & CPR Guide offers detailed instructions on how to perform life-saving procedures. It is available for $3.99 USD (on the USA App Store only) and features hundreds of pages with illustrations and twenty videos on topics including CPR, choking, bites, bruises, burns, seizures and diabetic emergencies.

Researchers at the Medical College of Georgia ran an eight-week pilot project to evaluate the potential of the Wii in enhancing treatment for individuals suffering from Parkinson’s disease. The project received financial support from the National Parkinson's Foundation.

The study used Wii Sports with each patient playing two games of Tennis and Bowling and one game of Boxing. These games were chosen because they involve exercise, bilateral movement, balance, and a fast pace—skills that patients tend to lose with the disease.

“The Wii allows patients to work in a virtual environment that's safe, fun and motivational," said Dr. Ben Herz, Program Director and Assistant Professor at the School of Allied Health Sciences’ Department of Occupational Therapy. "The games require visual perception, eye-hand coordination, figure-ground relationships and sequenced movement, so it's a huge treatment tool from an occupational therapy perspective."

Participants reported improvements in movement, fine motor skills, energy levels, rigidity and movement. Exercise and video games have proven to significantly increase the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter deficient in Parkinson's patients. Dopamine also helps improve voluntary, functional movements.

Additionally, patients’ depression levels were drastically reduced once they started treatment. Research shows that approximately 45 percent of Parkinson’s patients suffer from depression.

"Game systems are the future of rehab," said Herz. "About 60 percent of the study participants decided to buy a Wii for themselves. That speaks volumes for how this made them feel."