Wii-like motion tech may help rehabilitate stroke survivors

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wii.jpgPatients suffering from the after-effects of surviving a stroke may soon find help in the most unlikely of places. A study conducted by a team at City University London seems to suggest that motion technologies found in the likes of Wii Remotes and Sony’s PlayStation Move could soon play a vital role in the rehabilitation of stroke survivors.

The basic idea behind the Gesture Recognition in Aphasia Therapy (GReAT) study is that these relatively cheap technologies could be used by patients as part of ongoing treatments. Aphasia is a common side-effect of strokes that leads to limited spoken or written communication abilities, whose sufferers often learn to use gestures as an alternative to speech.

However, due to other stroke-side effects such as paralysis, helping stroke survivors to learn to use the gestures can lead to costly physio-therapy sessions. The ultimate aim of the project would be to use technology similar to that found in motion-gaming controllers to develop a system that could be used at home by the patients, delivering feedback on the how easily their gestures can be interpreted.

“Gesture tracking and recognition technologies are becoming a ubiquitous part of new computing and gaming environments, ranging from Apple’s touchscreen iPad through the handheld Nintendo Wii Remote to Microsoft’s forthcoming Kinect for the Xbox 360, which will track users’ movements without the need for a handheld controller,” says Stephanie Wilson, Senior Lecturer in HCID at City University London. “Whilst popular in gaming, we will evaluate the suitability of such technologies in aphasia rehabilitation.”

Jane Marshall, Professor of Aphasiology at City University London, added: “Computer-based treatments have been shown to improve verbal language skills in previous studies, but this is the first time that gestures will be addressed. With 45,000 new cases in the UK each year, we hope that our work will help a wider range of aphasic people to regain communication skills.”

The study, carried out in collaboration with The Stroke Association, has been made possible thanks to a £300,000 from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Running for 18 months, the team will test a prototype system with the help of volunteers, who will report back on how effective the treatment is.

Dr Sharlin Ahmed, Research Liaison Officer at The Stroke Association, says: “Communication difficulties are the most frustrating disability that stroke survivors are left facing. This very exciting and intuitive project could go a long way towards helping breakdown some of the barriers of communication that people with aphasia have to tackle. 150,000 people have a stroke in the UK every year and the use of new technology could help them regain their lives, so The Stroke Association is very proud to be a part of this.”

Gerald Lynch

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