Experts: Games allow athletic trainers to chart & track a patient’s healing process
(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – Before athletes who’ve suffered a concussion can get back into the game, researchers are asking some of them to play video games. From social media-themed games designed to check a patient’s mental progress, to exercise games to chart their physical ability, the idea is to use familiar tools in new ways.
“Basically, we’ve taken some of the motion sensing tools that are built into the video game system, adjusted them, and are now using them for concussion assessment,” said Tamerah Hunt, Ph.D., an athletic trainer with Sports Medicine Department at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “We are able to analyze their lateral sway, anterior sway and center of gravity,” she said, “to better determine when an athlete is more fully recovered from a concussion.”
It’s all thanks to the yoga exercises found on the Wii Fit. “We’re currently using the single leg stance, double-leg and tandem stances for our assessment,” said Hunt, “and we’ve been able to quantify the same numbers repeatedly, so we can really chart their progress with confidence.”
When it comes to assessing the balance of an athlete after a concussion, there are currently only a couple of options available. One is a heavy, sophisticated machine which costs tens of thousands of dollars per unit. While it may offer reliable data on balance, “it’s not something everyone can afford,” said Hunt, “and it’s certainly not portable. So, you literally have to bring every athlete to the machine to get their data.”
The other option is portable and much cheaper, relying instead on foam blocks and standardized measurements. “But with this system, the data all depends on who is doing the test,” said Hunt. “It’s very subjective in how you measure balance errors, so there could be inconsistencies between testers.”
Which is why researchers here turned to the Wii. It’s not only cost-effective, it’s easy to carry and easy to use. “Also, it’s become very competitive among these athletes. They really enjoy it, versus, saying ‘Oh, this is just another concussion test I have to take,” said Hunt.
That’s the idea behind the game-based approach.
“We’re trying to make the process of recovery a little bit more engaging for patients,” said Lise Worthen-Chaudhari, who is also testing a social media-themed game to chart the cognitive recovery of athletes who have suffered a concussion. “If we can make their data and outcomes a little more transparent to them, then they can track their own progress through their play.”
But this approach to dealing with concussions isn’t all fun and games, there is some serious science behind it.
“When we have a brain injury, like a concussion, we used to think the damage was somewhat permanent,” said Worthen-Chaudhari. “But there has been a lot of evidence that suggests your brain can re-wire and recover, given the right stimulus, and that’s just what these games are designed to give.”
Both sets of games are still being tested, but so far results seem promising. Charting the progress of athletes at both Ohio State University and the University of Maryland, Hunt says the games, themselves, may not help patients heal, but they are giving doctors a clearer picture of where athletes are at every step in the process.
“We’re not just looking at how they’re doing cognitively, we’re not just looking at balance, we’re not just looking at symptoms,” said Hunt, “we’re looking at everything and trying to put it all together so we can make sure these athletes only return to play when they’re minds and bodies are truly ready.”
¹How Many People Have TBI?, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Online: http://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/statistics.html