Nintendo's Wii Balance Board can help multiple sclerosis patients reduce the risk of falls, according to a new study.
Nintendo's Wii Balance Board has the potential to reduce the risk of accidental falls in people suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS). A new research, published in Radiology journal, reveals that the use of Nintendo's balance board accessory has a favourable effect on brain connections associated with movement and balance.
The Wii Balance Board has already been reported as effective in the rehabilitation of MS patients, but the physiological factors that led to improvement in balance are not yet fully understood.
In the latest study, researchers led by Dr. Luca Prosperini, M.D., Ph.D., from Sapienza University in Rome, Italy, used a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to observe and analyse changes in the brains of 27 MS patients. The patients underwent a 12-week intervention program which consisted of Wii Balance Board-based visual feedback training.
After the intervention, the patients' MRI scans showed significant changes in nerve tracts that are important in balance and movement. These changes coincided with improvements in balance. To assess the patients' balance, researchers used a technique called posturography.
The brain changes seen in study participants are likely a manifestation of neural plasticity, the brain's ability to form new connections and adapt, according to Dr. Prosperini, the lead author of the study. Similar plasticity has been seen in people who play video games, but the underlying mechanism responsible for the changes is still unknown.
Balance impairment is one of the biggest difficulties MS patients commonly deal with, and different rehabilitation programs exist to address the symptom. The Wii Balance Board is one of the more promising new rehabilitation tools. To perform balance exercises, users stand on the balance board and shift their weight around following cues on the screen while playing games like slalom skiing.
The improvements seen in MS patients' brains after the intervention period were not permanent. The benefits did not persist once the training was discontinued, leading researchers to conclude that specific skills associated with structural changes to the brain after an injury needed to be maintained through ongoing exercise and training.
The benefits on balance training, however, are not in question. Better balance leads to a reduced risk of accidental falls, which can sometimes have a devastating effect on a person's mobility and independence.
"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," said Dr. Prosperini. "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."