I’m a Student of Physiotherapy studying at the University of Otago in New Zealand, and also an avid gamer. Consequently, my two main areas of interest are medicine, specifically physical rehabilitation and treatment, and gaming, so, naturally, I find the concept of Child’s Play to be absolutely fascinating. The work that you are doing is fantastic, I’ve had a chance to view it first hand at Starship Children’s Hospital in Auckland, New Zealand, and I was extremely moved by the contributions that the gaming community as a whole have made to improving the quality of life for younger patients.
However, the positive impacts of Child’s Play providing games and toys to hospitals are not limited to entertainment and increases in the mental well-being of patients; Gaming is emerging as an effective method of treatment in the rehabilitation of patients. Video games, most notably those that make use of motion controls are very effective in rehabilitating patients with a huge range of conditions, ranging from stroke patients, through patients with intellectual disabilities such as Down’s Syndrome, to patients with musculoskeletal injuries as a result of surgery or trauma.
As Physiotherapists, or Physical Therapist (PT) as I believe we’re called in the US, our focus is on helping patients improve or maintain their levels of ability, and improving their quality of life. The kinds of patients we see are not, as many believe, limited to people with physical injuries, as we just as often work with patients suffering from neurological or psychological conditions.
One of the major factors in the speed of a patient’s recovery is their adherence to their rehabilitation program. Part of the challenge of being a physiotherapist is to design these programs in such a way that the patient will remain motivated and essentially stick to the program; the better a patient sticks to an physical rehabilitation program, the faster they will improve. However, this poses a particular problem when working with younger patients, who’s adherence to a program is much lower if the program isn’t fun. Physical rehabilitation programs are, by their nature, repetitive and focused; They often incorporate exercises or physical rehab techniques that are uncomfortable or painful for a patient, by necessity. As such, it’s often difficult to make these programs “Fun” for younger patients.
This is where gaming has been shown to be an effective treatment method. The Nintendo Wii for instance has been used as a tool to improve dynamic balance, to improve hand-eye co-ordination (improving visual/physical proprioception links) in patients with neurological conditions, to improve integrated motor coordination, and the Wii Balance Board peripheral has even been validated for use as a measure of standing balance. There are large numbers of studies that show positive results from the use of interactive gaming consoles in treatment, but perhaps the most important aspect of it’s use is that it makes these otherwise dull tasks enjoyable, and therefore increases the effectiveness of treatment, most notably in younger patients. I’ve attached a few studies showing some of these benefits.
I personally can also vouch for the effectiveness of these gaming systems in treatment. We have multiple Wii systems available for use in our facilities on campus, and I quite often incorporate them into exercise programs for patients. We’ve had nothing but praise for these systems from patients who use them in treatment, often despite initial skepticism. For instance, we have a very interesting patient who has worked with the school for years. He suffers from a very rare and very interesting neurological condition, and comes into the school multiple times each year to provide experience for us students in working with neurological patients. Last year we decided to incorporate the Wii Console into his exercise program, and he loved it. It also had great effects on his condition, so our year group (70ish people) decided to pool together enough money to buy him one for home, as a “Thank-You” for giving up his time to help us.
However, the use of gaming consoles as a rehabilitation tool is hampered by a number of issues. Perhaps the main issue is the many social stigmas that are still attached to gaming as a whole. Many of these are being lifted as games become more widespread. For instance, I believe the average age of a “Video Gamer” in Australia just hit 32, which somewhat puts a hole in the “Games are just for Kids!” stigma. I believe the main issue hampering this though is the same one that prompted the creation of Child’s Play: that video games turn people into “horrible people”, whether that be violent sociopaths or sedentary sloths. Child’s Play has done amazing work in helping to show that this is untrue, and I truly thank you for that.
Child’s Play is a charity focused on improving the hospital experience of young patients. The work that you do in providing entertainment for Children’s Hospitals is nothing short of amazing, and the benefit to the mental well-being of the patients is enormous. I’m sure you’re already aware, but patients who are happy and in emotionally good health have notably faster rates of recovery, and generally respond better to treatment than they would otherwise; your charity is directly improving the health of the patients. I believe that this experience can be further improved by the incorporation of motion-controlled consoles into rehabilitation and treatment programs in Children’s Hospitals, and I believe that Child’s Play is in a unique position to be able to aid this, both by increasing awareness of the effectiveness of consoles as a method of treatment, and of course by continuing the amazing work that you are already doing.