Computer Games Help People with Parkinson’s Disease

Physical therapy computer games can help improve gait and balance.

Computer games are often thought of as idle leisure activities, yet the UCSF School of Nursing in partnership with Red Hill Studios has developed a computer game that improves symptoms of Parkinson’s including shakiness, slowness of movement, and limb and trunk rigidity.

More than half the subjects in the three-month research project showed small improvements in walking speed, balance and stride length.

Unlike off-the-shelf computer games, these specialized games encourage scientifically tested specific physical movements to help people with functional impairments and diseases. The Red Hill team then designed physical games, similar to Wii and Kinect games, in which subjects win points by moving their bodies in certain ways. Each game has multiple difficulty levels so that the clinical team could customize the therapeutic games for each subject's particular abilities.

"Each subject found his or her own gaming 'sweet spot' - the spot where the physical challenge was not too hard, not too easy, just right,'' said Bob Hone, creative director of Red Hill Studios and the lead Principal Investigator of the study. "And when subjects mastered one game level, they often moved on to harder levels for more beneficial effect. The subjects improved their games scores while improving their gait and balance.''

Red Hill developed a custom sensor suit with nine tracking sensors to analyze subjects' movements with higher resolution and accuracy than is possible with consumer gaming platforms. The PC-based system sent encrypted data to a secure database allowing the research teams to track the subjects' performance daily. "From the data tracking we could see that there were some subjects who were playing the games more than the specified three times a week,'' said Hone. "Because this was a highly structured research study, we actually had to ask them to play less than they wanted!''

The trial involved 20 participants with moderate levels of Parkinson's disease in northern California with 65% of game players demonstrating longer stride length; 55% increased gait velocity, and 55% reporting improved balance confidence after playing the games for 12 weeks.

Click here for a video on the therapy games:

For more information on Red Hill studios, visit