Wii helps stroke victims

Author: John Monczunski

When Nintendo’s interactive Wii game system first came out, physical therapists were quick to see the therapeutic possibilities of “virtual/actual” golf, tennis and other exercises. Now a collaborative research team that includes Notre Dame engineering and psychology professors is taking things a step further, developing the system as a diagnostic tool to enhance stroke victim therapy.

The idea is to use the Wii remote and balance board, which serve as controllers for the interactive video games, to gather more precise data about a specific patient’s physical abilities.

“Most of what we’ve been doing now is balance activities,” says James Schmiedeler, an ND aerospace and mechanical engineering professor. He, along with his colleague in computer science, Aaron Striegel, and psychology professors Charles Crowell and Michael Villano, has been working on the project with rehabilitation therapists at South Bend’s Memorial Hospital.

“It’s a big need,” Schmiedeler says. “If you’re going to get locomotion back, you have to get balance back first.” Using the Wii, patients shift their center of gravity to reach a target on the screen. Feedback from the balance board tells the therapist if the standing patient is putting more weight on one side or the other, useful information in gauging a sense of balance.

Schmeideler says the Wii system has two advantages. “One is the visual feedback you give the patient you help, and the other is the quantitative feedback you give the therapist.” Such feedback, he says, can improve the therapist’s sense of how the patient is responding to treatment.

Eventually, researchers hope to develop a home version of their program, allowing patients to play the balance diagnostic game at their own convenience.

John Monczunski is an associate editor of Notre Dame Magazine.