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Press release

  • 17 February 2009

Making stroke rehabilitation exercises game play

By Geraldine Fitzpatrick, University of Sussex

Computer games and motion sensors might soon be able to help stroke patients recover enough upper arm function to carry out everyday tasks again such as drinking a cup of tea.

A team of researchers from a number of UK universities - Sussex, Nottingham Southampton, Sheffield Hallam, Dundee and Oxford - are working together as part of the 'Motivating Mobility' project to develop new technologies that people can use on their own at home following a stroke.

The aim is to make rehabilitation exercises part of an engaging interactive game so that people don't realise they are doing exercises. Instead they are having fun, and getting better at the same time.

"Imagine I said you had to swing your arm left to right 500 times a day" says Southampton researcher Prof Jane Burridge, "That would be boring and hard to do. But imagine I said you had to play a set of tennis every day. That's the difference we're trying to make here - incorporate exercise into something that doesn't seem like boring exercise."

Stroke is a major cause of suffering and disability in the UK and it is the third major cause of disability in adults. As in much of Europe and the developed world, the UK is facing the challenges of an aging population, increasing demands on the healthcare system, and a decreasing proportion of GDP to pay for such care. It is well known that rehabilitation exercises can make a real difference in reducing disability and helping people recover some use of their limbs following a stroke. However there are two problems.

One problem is that the people find the exercises boring and difficult to do correctly. The other problem is that there aren't enough physiotherapists available in the community to properly support people during their long recovery following a stroke and motivation can be a real issue.

This is where the Motivating Mobility project hopes to help. They aim to develop simple interactive technologies that people can set up in their own home and that will help motivate them to do their exercises because it is fun to use and it will also help them do the exercises in a correct way.

Dr Geraldine Fitzpatrick, who leads the User-centred Design Team in the project, talks about the importance of engaging with stroke patients and with their families and carers and therapists to make sure they get the design of these technologies right.

As Fitzpatrick explains, "It is critically important in this project that we really understand what life is like for people after a stroke and what sorts of things people would find fun and engaging. Our idea of fun might not be their idea of fun. We also need to understand the difference between designing a piece of technology to fit into a hospital setting and a technology that people would be happy to have in their homes."

The team has spent considerable time visiting stroke clubs and rehabilitation centres and visiting people in their own homes to understand what sorts of technologies might be acceptable and what sorts of games and interactive experiences people might like. They have also held a series of workshops with stroke patients and therapists to get feedback on some early design ideas.

A key part of the project is that computer scientists, physiotherapists, designers and engineers are all working together. Researchers bring back their stories about what people with stroke want and the team put these together with what the physiotherapists need for correct movements and what the technologists can do with simple technologies.

The team wants to use simple sensors such as motion and pressure sensors and off the shelf technologies such as web cams. The aim is to build a core set of technology components for different types of movements and then to be able to choose a game from a range of different types of games to suit individual preferences.

Fitzpatrick notes: "However hard the technology is to build, the technology is the easy bit. Getting the right technology and using it in the right way, that will fit into our everyday lives and homes, that is the hard bit."

Notes for editors

For more information contact Danielle Treanor, Press and PR Officer, tel 01273 873245

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