How to Use Computer Gaming as Therapy for Parkinson's DiseaseCategory: Newsletter
Dr. C., originally published in PARKINSON'S NEWS TODAY
The brain is a plastic organ continually reshaping itself in response to the stimuli it receives and the way those stimuli are processed. The old adage “use it or lose it” applies even in the face of a challenging disease like Parkinson’s.
Computer gaming can help with brain training by exercising the brain to help moderate the effects of Parkinson’s. For computer gaming to be efficacious as therapy, it must be implemented with careful attention to finding the right fit between the demands of the game and the therapeutic needs of the Parkinson’s person.
Recent research on video gaming and treatment for Parkinson’s shows it can help with physical issues such as gait and balance.
The key to successfully using computer gaming is to find the right match of game for each person, as well as the appropriate difficulty level. The game must be challenging, but not so challenging that it becomes discouraging. It also must be rewarding and enjoyable. (There is that dopamine factor to consider.) Gaming has a “sweet spot,” like Goldilocks, in which you find just the right fit. I found this balance in the game “Shroud of the Avatar,” which I recommend for people with Parkinson’s.
It took me a while to find the right video game — years, actually. “Shroud of the Avatar,” or “SotA,” is that game! It can be played at various levels. Not only can you find the sweet spot for your own style of playing, but also you can move that spot around depending on whether it is a good day or a bad day.
The game has a solid ethical foundation built on virtue and clean gameplay (no foul language). Playing SotA for 10 to 20 hours a week exercises the brain and the body — use it or lose it — while having a good time doing it.
SotA is just the right game for those with Parkinson’s. It offers exercise for geographical memory, hand-eye coordination, speech, and problem-solving (scenario looping) at a variety of levels. It is a place where impulsivity can be applied with fewer consequences than in the real world. It is a place where the grouch can go when T.O.O.T.S. needs to be applied.
Have the urge to buy? Then earn virtual money and buy virtual things. Frustrated? Then enter the virtual world and work it out on some monsters. Have pain with your Parkinson’s (a difficult problem for me)? Spend time in the virtual world of SotA to help manage the pain with less medication. Want a sense of accomplishment? Help build a community while also making yourself a strong avatar.
I have built a “sanctuary” for Parkinson’s folks inside SotA. It is a place where your avatar will find support and fellowship. Within this sanctuary is a place where you can find that sweet spot while contributing to building a support community. You can find this virtual sanctuary inside SotA in a town called Grumridge, just east of the city Aerie.
It may seem counterintuitive to say that fighting skeletons and building a virtual community is relaxing, but this has been my experience. Conversations I have had with others indicate that this experience is common. I often have clarity of mind while playing, and some of the ideas for these columns pop up in the middle of the game. That dopamine effect happens when successful within SotA, and the game offers many ways to experience success. You can’t get much better than having good, clean fun while slowing down the progression of Parkinson’s!
One more note: I do use adaptive equipment to help me play the game. I have a large trackball on my dominant hand and a keypad with a thumb joystick on my other hand. It takes a little while to learn how to use this equipment, but the reward is a greater success rate inside the world of SotA (more dopamine!).
I also have a headset with a microphone. Plenty of opportunities exist to speak with others within the world of SotA, and the community of players is the best I have encountered in the gaming world. As far as I know, this is the first time a virtual support community within a game was developed for people with Parkinson’s. Oh... and the game is free!
I look forward to seeing you there. My avatar name is Dr. Wiz. Let us build something special together.