Photo: a games console controller

More than just a game

Whether it's Call of Duty or Candy Crush, computer games are big business and the mounting popularity of ‘gaming’ shows no signs of slowing down.

With gaming technology constantly improving, researchers have started to investigate if any of it could help people with MS.

Kinecting the dots

‘AssessMS’ uses Microsoft's Xbox Kinect motion-sensing cameras to track the progress of physical MS symptoms.

The technology was initially developed to allow players to control a game with their body, but it can now used to measure how someone with MS performs a series of movements.

The Kinect camera collects the movement data to produce an accurate measure of the degree of impairment over time.

This technology could make it easier for doctors to measure the progress of physical symptoms more consistently, which is important when making care and treatment decisions.

A Wii bit of help

A recent study of 56 people with MS found exercise-based gaming using Nintendo's WiiFit system was a promising alternative to traditional exercise. The study compared the results of a WiiFit balance game with physiotherapy and interestingly, both groups showed the same improvement.

We are currently funding a project to develop an intervention package (Mii-vitaliSe) to support people with MS to use the Wii at home. The aim is to monitor the impact on activity levels, vitality and general wellbeing, with initial results due to be published in 2017.

> Find out more about the benefits of exercise

Don't skip brain day

Exercising doesn’t always have to mean raising a sweat. For those managing the cognitive symptoms of MS, it’s just as important to exercise your brain, and computer games have also proved useful here.

A study of 24 people with MS found regularly playing ‘Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training’ over eight weeks improved the functional connectivity of neurons in the brain. This was associated with improvement in cognitive function, such as increased attention span.

Further research will need to be done to see whether this increase in functional connectivity will help improve other symptoms of MS and what other games or activities might achieve the same results.

Balancing opportunities

Using virtual reality (VR) to immerse someone in a real-life situation, such as walking on an uneven surface or in a crowded area, has shown promising results improving balance in people with Parkinson’s or following a stroke.

This technology is now being investigated to see if it can help improve balance in people with MS. 32 people took part in a study over six weeks, with half receiving VR balance training and the other half doing conventional balance exercise.

Both groups improved their balance, but participants in the VR group were less fearful of falling.

Research continues

While these developments are exciting and full of potential, research is ongoing, and more is needed, to see the full impact of each programme on people affected by MS. We’re at the start of a generation of research delivering major advances in MS treatment and we need your help to keep up the momentum.