Recreational activities such as playing cards, Jenga or throwing a ball can help stroke patients improve their motor skills, researchers have found.
Scientists from Canada, Argentina, Peru and Thailand found hand strength and dexterity were improved by people repeatedly carrying out such tasks, which they discovered worked just as well as playing on games console, such as a Wii.
“We all like technology and have the tendency to think that new technology is better than old-fashioned strategies, but sometimes that’s not the case,” said Dr. Gustavo Saposnik, a neurologist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.
“In this study, we found that simple recreational activities that can be implemented anywhere may be as effective as technology,” he said.
“This is very important for access to care.”
The researchers recruited 141 stroke patients who had mobility problems with one arm. Half were given virtual reality games to play – an increasingly popular choice for rehabilitation – and the remainder played snap, dominoes, bingo and ball-tossing during 10 one-hour sessions for a fortnight.
The extra therapy was on top of conventional rehabilitation. Patients in both groups recorded between a 30 per cent improvement in arm and hand function at the end of the two weeks, which had risen to 40 per cent four weeks later.
“There was no significant difference between the two groups in terms of strength, dexterity, gross motor skills, quality of life or activities of daily living,” added Dr Saposnik.
“I thought that technology — so virtual reality — would be more effective by far than a simple recreational activity. But I was wrong.”
Alexis Wieroniey of the UK’s Stroke Association praised the findings which she said would appeal to stroke patients because the activities involved were not expensive and easily accessible.
A pilot study by Dr Saposnik in 2010 pilot study virtual reality therapy was more effective in improving patients’ motor skills, but that trial was a lot smaller and only compared it to conventional therapy and not things like card-playing.