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Stroke Victims Using Kinect for At-Home Rehabilitation

In 2004, impotent if someone told you video games in ten years would facilitate rehabilitation for those suffering from debilitating conditions, pharm what would you have said? Like anyone attempting to guess the future, sometimes it’s difficult to predict how certain technologies diverge from their original application and converge into unconventional practices. This is what happens when “out of the box” thinkers identify untapped potential in existing tools. So, as one can imagine, the idea of using the Xbox Kinect for rehabilitation efforts is one that could singlehandedly change the landscape of how patients recover after experiencing a stroke.

Some post-stroke therapy techniques

Because no two strokes are the same, the proceeding type and degree of disability is very much dependent on the damaged brain region. Depending on the size and location of the damaged area, stroke victims may encounter problems with motor control or experience local or total paralysis. Other common problems include disturbances in processing senses, comprehending languages (aphasia), storing memories and controlling emotions. To combat these issues, there are a number of existing therapies. Here are a few:

Botulinum toxin: injections that reduce muscle spasms and stiffness

Constraint Induced movement Therapy (CIMT): classic CIMT demands 5, 6-hour sessions per week and is focused on restraining the unaffected upper limb while encouraging the patient to employ the use of the affected upper limb

Dynamic splinting: a mechanical assist helps patients extend their wrist and fingers

Partial body weight-supported treadmill training: a harness supports some of the patient’s bodyweight while they gradually regain function in their legs

Brain Stimulation: experimental therapies that use transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS) are believed to enhance the brain’s rewiring capabilities

As a whole, post-stroke therapy serves to teach survivors how to approach and perform normal tasks from new perspectives in order to circumvent or compensate for any lasting incapacities. However, the most critical component in any rehabilitation program is precisely targeted and frequent practice – just like one would do when learning any other skill. Although rehabilitation is costly, one of the most prominent deterrents is getting people to actually commit to practice. If the tasks aren’t engaging, a lack of motivation hinders action. This is just one of the problems that the bright minds at Jintronix set out to solve.

The psychology behind the Kinect idea

When looking at positive research behind video games, a couple striking themes continually persist: users experience improved self-efficacy and increased learning. Popularized by Albert Bandura, self-efficacy is known as one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in a specific situation. Gamers stimulate their brains by accessing multiple psychological states: competition, challenge, diversion, fantasy, social interaction and arousal.

Through successive achievements in these psychological states, self-efficacy and motivation levels begin to climb because the reward centers of the brain activate and release feel-good neurotransmitters – like dopamine. Dopamine plays a critical role in motivation. As dopamine travels down the mesolimbic pathway (a dopaminergic pathway in the brain), it passes through the nucleus accumbens where a very peculiar, yet interesting event takes place. High levels of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens cause neurons to predict or assume future reward. This is the sensation someone feels when their brain realizes something big is about to happen and subsequently motivates a particular action.

Video games consistently elicit this phenomenon because the player is constantly making decisions to complete micro tasks before achieving micro goals.  Because the Kinect requires players to use their bodies as controllers, the idea of developing games for rehabilitation purposes seems like a no-brainer, right?

As the Jintronix games and software develop, so will adoption rates. Currently, 60 clinics and hospitals globally are testing Jintronix software. Plus, patients may some day be able to connect with other users via social media to increase rapport and open the door to improved telemedicine. To make a dynamic system, the software will eventually be capable of reading facial expressions and detecting heart rates to adjust for fatigue and pain.


By: William Rusnak  is a fourth year medical student, financial investor, writer, and entrepreneur. He writes for NueMD, covering healthcare technology, biotechnology, and nutrition. He is currently applying to residencies with plans to practice in Primary Care and Sports Medicine. Outside of his professional life, he is a family man, performing musician, and paleo-diet enthusiast.


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