The Nintendo Wii even has health benefits to its credit! A new study has found that the most sought after games console ever might be good for cognitive health, and may also be of good use in treating symptoms of Parkinson's disease, including depression.
Parkinson's disease is a degenerative disease that impairs motor skills.
Dr. Ben Herz at Medical College of Georgia has said that the popular computer game console, which simulates various sports and activities, could not only improve coordination, reflexes and other movement-related skills, but it had additional benefits as well.
"The Wii allows patients to work in a virtual environment that's safe, fun and motivational. 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," said Herz.
For the eight-week pilot study, 20 Parkinson's patients spent an hour playing the Wii three times a week for four weeks.
The patients were in a stage of the disease in which both body sides are affected but with no significant gait disturbance yet.
All the patients played two games each of tennis and bowling and one game of boxing-games entailing exercise, bilateral movement, balance and fast pace.
"By the middle of the study, we actually had a number of people who could (defeat) their opponent out in the first round, which amazed us," said Herz.
However, the victories were not the biggest surprise as participants showed significant improvements in rigidity, movement, fine motor skills and energy levels.
In fact, the most impressive finding was that most participants' depression levels decreased to zero.
It's already known that exercise and video games independently can increase the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter deficient in Parkinson's patients, and Herz thinks that this is the case with the Wii's exercise effect.
He said that dopamine also helps improve voluntary, functional movements, which Parkinson's patients "use or lose."
"I think we're going to be using virtual reality and games a lot more because it provides a controlled physical environment that allows patients to participate in the activities they need or want to do. A patient doesn't have to go to a bowling alley and worry about environmental problems or distractions," said Herz.
The study was presented at the fifth annual Games for Health Conference in Boston.