Using Computer Games as Therapy for PD

December 5, 2018

A new pilot study from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) School of Nursing found that playing computer-based physical therapy games can help those with Parkinson disease (PD) improve their gait and balance.

The UCSF team worked with Red Hill Studios, a gaming software developer, on the study, and they are the first research team in the United States to receive federal funding in the burgeoning field of low-cost computerized physical therapy games. These specialized games are designed to encourage physical movements that have been scientifically tested to help people with functional disabilities and diseases.

UCSF and Red Hill worked together on 9 clinically inspired games designed to help those with PD, having the games focus on body movements and gestures that previous research has shown to be beneficial for delaying the physical symptoms of PD. The games are similar to Wii and Kinect games where users win points by moving their bodies in certain ways, and each game has multiple levels so that games are tailored to individual users’ needs and abilities.

The 3-month project involved 20 participants in northern California with moderate levels of PD. Users wore a custom sensor suit with tracking sensors to analyze participants’ movements; research teams tracked their performance daily.

After playing the games for 12 weeks, 65% of game players demonstrated longer stride length, 55% increased gait velocity, and 55% reported improved balance confidence. 

UCSF team leader Glenna Dowling, RN, PhD, professor and chair of the UCSF Department of Physiological Nursing, said in a UCSF news release, “These initial studies show the promise of custom-designed physical therapy games promoting specific movements and gestures that can help patients get better….Now that we have this preliminary positive result, we want to conduct a longer term clinical trial with more subjects to confirm these initial findings.”

—Amanda Del Signore


UCSF School of Nursing. Computer Games Help People with Parkinson's Disease. Accessed December 5, 2018. 

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