Video games providing new avenues for stroke rehabilitation

17th March 2021

BEL AIR, Md. — Inside Megan Leaf’s home, what sounds like an old-school video arcade is actually helping to transform her life.

“It was just a great way to move and to get things going,” she said.

Nearly three years ago, Leaf suffered a stroke, which affected the entire right side of her body, her balance and her ability to speak.

“I don’t remember anything until I got diagnosed with having a stroke,” Leaf said.

Her doctors at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore decided to include something new in her rehabilitation: video games, specially-designed for stroke patients.

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“The advantage of these video games for therapy is that it encourages a patient to do it more often and participate more often,” said Anne Spar, who works with Leaf on her rehabilitation and is the team coordinator at Johns Hopkins’ physical medicine and rehab department.

The hospital is now using 20 of these devices.

“We can provide exercises, but everybody knows it gets boring to do exercise,” Spar said. “So, we provide exercises, but if we have these video games, we can put into the patient’s homes like we have with Megan. it helps them want to engage more and be more active.”

These video games are known as digital neurorehabilitation therapies, which is a form of therapy presented in a more engaging way.

“It’s the new era of digital therapeutics, sort of software approaches to treat medical conditions,” said Dr. John Krakauer, a Johns Hopkins professor who is the chief scientific advisor to MindMaze, the company behind the games, which are called “MindMotion GO.”

He said the pandemic accelerated the use of these programs and will likely spread their use into more hospitals.

“It has the taste of the future,” Dr. Krakauer said. “All the trends are for patients to feel empowered, to have more continuous contact with their clinicians between visits. The digital era is coming. So, I think it’s almost like a perfect storm that was catalyzed by COVID-19, but it was coming anyway.”

Back at her home, Leaf is working to beat her high score.

“Sometimes, it has a result,” she said. “My goal eventually is to have as much use of my right side as I can have.”

And with it, she hopes to regain a greater sense of independence.