Researchers at the University of Ulster have been carrying out trials of specially designed computer games to help rehabilitate stroke sufferers.
Ulster’s School of Computing and Information Engineering in Coleraine has collaborated on the project with fellow researchers at the Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Institute at the Jordanstown campus.
The Games for Rehabilitation project, which has been funded by the Department of Employment and Learning over three years, focuses on rehabilitation of the upper limbs and involves the player using their hands and arms to touch targets which move around the screen.
Their movements are tracked by a webcam and the game responds to their interaction, giving them positive feedback on their performance and engagement with the system.
The design of the games and interface means people don’t need to have played computer or video games in order to engage effectively with the system.
Researcher James Burke, a PhD computing student, said there have been a number of studies conducted which looked at applying novel interaction technology such as sensors and video capture to stroke rehabilitation with very encouraging results.
“We have taken this one step further by applying the principles of game design in order to improve user engagement. Video games offer exciting potential for rehabilitation - gamers know just how engaging video games can be.
“The team is working on realising this potential for engagement and applying it to stroke rehabilitation where patients often struggle to engage with therapy due to its mundane and repetitive nature.”
Initial feedback from the trials has been very positive, says Dr Michael McNeill from the School of Computing and Information Engineering.
“We have had several people with varying levels of impairment playing the games, some with very restricted movement, and all have been able to play the games well. Participants expressed enjoyment from playing the games and some were keen to get a copy of the games to play at home.”
Dr Jacqui Crosbie, from the Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Research Institute, said: “We have seen a lot of media coverage recently regarding game consoles such as the Nintendo Wii being used for rehabilitation in clinics and care homes and it’s great to see these games being used in such a positive way.
“Studies show, however, that games which are produced mainly for entertainment purposes can be difficult for people with motor function deficit to play.
“An advantage of having an interdisciplinary team of researchers across health sciences and computing means that we can design computer games specifically for stroke rehabilitation. These offer people with stroke a programme of therapy which is not only tailored to their abilities but allows them to have fun at the same time.
“A feature of the games is that they are designed to work with standard computer hardware, enabling them to be played in the home.”
James recently gave presentations on the team’s work at the Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke conference Annual Scientific Research Conference in Belfast and the International Conference on Games and Virtual Worlds for Serious Applications in Portugal.