Because the mere mention of video games can spark controversy—are they or aren’t they the root of all evil?—news about the potential benefits they have on people’s cognitive abilities is not typically shouted from the rooftops.
However, HealthcareIT News recently reported that Kinetic Muscles, Inc. (KMI) has received additional funding from the Department of Defense (DOD) to begin Phase II of their study on the benefits of using video game-based therapies for treatment of military veterans with traumatic brain injury (TBI). Many of us in brain injury rehabilitation have used video games to assist with motor skills training, improve balance and coordination, enhance attention and address other aspects of the significant cognitive and motor problems that people experience after TBI.
Clinical results from Phase I of the study showed that KMI’s Hand Mentor, which helps users increase hand dexterity in an interactive training environment, improved cognitive ability, dexterity, memory, thought processing and reasoning. According to the article, the combination of progressive neuropsychological therapy and high-tech gaming technology is an engaging way for soldiers (most of whom grew up playing video games) to work on rehabilitating the cognitive and movement deficits they experience as a result of TBI.
Of course, this isn’t the first study to suggest that video games might not be so bad after all. Though there are certainly reasons why they have gotten a bad rap over time, several studies have shown that video games help improve hand-eye coordination. Others even suggest that they go beyond improving dexterity, and actually help people improve their cognitive abilities by putting players in situations where they must focus, be patient, be willing to delay gratification, and prioritize resources…that is, it forces them to think. In fact, from surgeons to firefighters to currency traders, more and more professionals are using video games to sharpen their skills.
We know that TBIs are a huge concern for members of our military, and there is a great need to improve treatment and rehabilitation for our soldiers with brain injuries. The promising results from Phase I of KMI’s study, in addition to the prior research on the cognitive benefits of digital gaming technology, suggest that the Hand Mentor could be a useful, engaging and cost-effective way to help our soldiers.
It’ll be interesting to watch what happens as Phase II, which involves clinical testing in VA hospitals, is carried out. Will the study validate the effectiveness of the therapy system? If so, will the use of video game-based therapies as part of the treatment regimen for people with brain injuries begin to spread beyond the VA hospitals’ walls into the communities and homes where our veterans returning home with TBI reside?
The use of video game technology can enable us to take rehab out of the hospital and clinic and into the person’s home where it is more accessible. Video games also reduce some of the stigma associated with brain injury rehab. After all, who wouldn’t want a few hours on the video console?