Can logging a few minutes here and there on “Candy Crush” or “Pokémon Go” actually help those with multiple sclerosis (MS)?
Over recent years there have been a variety of clinical studies and research that promote the benefits of video games and computers for patients with this disease of the central nervous system.
From vision to balance to depression, people are finding relief from their MS symptoms in the comfort of their own homes.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, approximately 50 percent of those with MS experience brain fog, or “cog-fog” as it’s commonly called.
Cog-fog is the description used when the synapses in the brain do not fire correctly and thought processes are interrupted.
Using computers and video games to rehabilitate this cognitive dysfunction is now proving successful.
A recent study concluded that adaptive, computer-based rehabilitation can lead to improved cognitive functioning in people with MS.
Another study was based on research done by the Japanese neuroscientist Dr. Ryuta Kawashima. It used video games that included puzzles, word memory, and other mental challenges to help those with MS.
The popular online games from Lumosity supposedly help improve memory.
While there is no clinical proof to support those claims, testimonials remain strong that users have quicker recall and better decision-making skills after playing the games.
Users can track their cognitive skills by watching their performance records and comparing them with the general population.
Some companies have created games specific to MS symptoms. MyBrainGames was designed by Bayer pharmaceutical company. The user may access one of several games or customize it based on their own cognitive issues.
CogniFit is a healthcare company providing activities for people with MS that offer customization, tracking, and more than 50 brain games. This program is available for computers and also offers tablet and phone apps for a monthly subscription.
Another game called Brain Age is available for Nintendo DS and Wii consoles. It’s designed to “train a brain in 10 minutes.”
Sometimes cog-fog may indicate a possible relapse. By playing games on a regular basis one begins to know their scores and how they usually perform. When a user shows lower than usual scores, this could be an indication that the person’s MS is aggravated.
The use of video games has also proven successful with physical therapy for balance.
In one study using an Xbox 360, people with MS were able to improve their balance with video games.
In another study, both patients and physical therapists said that exercising with Wii Fit games was fun, and that it challenged the patients’ physical and cognitive capacities.
In addition to balance the Wii Fit has been helpful in motivating folks to get up and move.
Yoga, strength, balance, and aerobic training have been found to reduce fatigue, increase fitness levels, and improve quality of life in people with MS.
The most recent craze, “Pokémon Go,” where the users chase Pokémon around their neighborhoods and throw Poké balls, seems to be a good enough reason for some people to increase physical activity.
Former skateboarder and carpenter Trevor Nurse is inspired by “Pokémon Go” and uses it as a distraction from the pain associated with walking.
He says it makes him more active and improves his attitude.
Video games that incorporate meditation can calm and soothe anxiety in people with MS.
Used to calm the mind and body in people with MS, meditation can also help to ease pain and improve quality of life.
According to Professor George Jelinek, author of the book “Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis: An Evidence-Based Guide to Recovery,” a 7-step recovery program, meditation is one of the central elements to finding wellness, and is a “key part of healing from any disease.”
One app called Stop, Breathe & Think also offers meditative guidance and suggestions for making the process simple and easy for beginners. Meditations range from “engaging your senses” to “commonality of suffering.”
Editor’s Note: Caroline Craven is a patient expert living with MS. Her award winning blog is GirlwithMS.com, and she can be found @thegirlwithms.