Virtual Reality Games May Help Patients with Stroke

May 21, 2005

A stroke or "brain attack" occurs when the blood supply to the brain is stopped. If this happens for enough time, neurons will start to die because they will not get enough oxygen. Paralysis is a frequent consequence of a stroke. Researchers have investigated a new therapy for victims of stroke: virtual reality video games!

Scientists divided 10 stroke patients into two groups of five subjects each. All of the patients had a stroke at least one year prior to the test and images of their brains were made before the study began using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The five patients in the experimental group were outfitted with "cyber gloves" and played three different virtual reality video games: "Sharkbait," "Snowboard" and a stepping game. Each patient played the games for 60 minutes each day, five times a week for four weeks. The five people in the control group did not play the games.

After four weeks of game playing (or just four weeks later for the patients in the control group), patients were tested to assess their walking ability and another scan of their brain was taken. Patients in the game-playing group showed greater improvement than those patients in the control group. Furthermore, fMRI scans of the brains of patients in the game-playing group showed increased function in the primary sensorimotor cortex.

This experiment demonstrates that virtual reality game playing may benefit patients who have suffered a stroke. Game playing may increase the attention and motivation of patients to participate in physical therapy. However, the study used only five patients in the experimental group and five patients in the control group. A larger study with more patients in each group would provide stronger evidence about the effectiveness of this therapy.

Experiment Virtual Reality Games

Sharkbait: players "deep sea dive" and must capture stars and avoid sharks and eels. The game requires players to shift their weight, step, and squat.

Snowboard: players must "snowboard" down a narrow slope and avoid obstacles. The game requires players to shift their weight, rotate their trunk, and step.

Stepping: players must virtually step up and down stairs.

Did You Know?


  • Each year there are about 700,000 people in the United States who suffer a stroke.
  • Stroke is the THIRD leading cause of death in the US.
  • Stroke kills about 160,000 people in the US each year.
  • Every 45 seconds, someone in the US has a stroke.
(Statistics from the American Stroke Association)


  1. You, S.H., et al., Virtual Reality-Induced Cortical Reorganization and Associated Locomotor Recovery in Chronic Stroke. An Experimenter-Blind Randomized Study, Stroke, 36:1166-1171, 2005.
  2. Video Games May Improve Visual Skills

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