Notre Dame researchers use Wii to develop therapeutic solutions for stroke patients

Notre Dame has certainly been in the game lately with the women's basketball team going for a national championship and the men's hockey team icing it to the Frozen Four.

But there is another game Notre Dame has been working on that could revolutionize rehab for stroke patients.

Lance Grover, 62, of Mishawaka is going home from Memorial Hospital after suffering a stroke.

Part of his in-patient therapy involves the popular game system, Wii and an idea born from Notre Dame's Dr. Aaron Striegel, an Associate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering.

Dr. Striegel said, "We were trying to teach freshman engineering students how to program and one of the things we had looked at was using the Wii Mote. Everyone uses the Wii. Can we use it to teach computational thinking?"

Dr. Striegel joined forces with colleagues from Notre Dame's Departments of Pyschology and Mechanical Engineering, challenging students to come up with therapeutic solutions for stroke patients.

Second year Mechanical Engineering graduate student Michael Kennedy did just that. Using a PC and Wii Balance Board, he designed what they call We-Hab.

Kennedy said, "It provides visual feedback. The therapist can say, ‘I want you to do this task’ and they're not just telling them ‘I want you to do this.’ They're showing them okay on this screen I want you to move your center of gravity represented by this green circle to the target represented by this blue circle."

Michael and his Notre Dame professors worked alongside the hospital's therapists to make sure they were on the right track.

Jim Schmiedeler said, "What's evolved then is a system that provides visual feedback to a patient doing balance retaining in rehab based on where their center of gravity is when they're standing on this board."

It is a system therapist Amy Gaynor says works and makes therapy more fun.

Gaynor explained, “It shows me if he's bearing weight on both feet equally or pushing off with one leg harder than the other or he loses his balance to one side."

Grover will not be taking the We-Hab home with him, but Notre Dame researchers are hoping that might be the case in the not so distant future, making it a relatively inexpensive, helpful and fun form of therapy.

Schmiedeler said, "We'd like to see in five years it be a standard piece of equipment and a standard piece of software at an inexpensive level in rehab clinics around the country."

Kennedy said, "Eventually that is our hope, patients are able to take this home with them and continue to do work without the therapist helping them out."

Dr. Striegel said, "You might get a hospital issued Wii or X-Box, you take home with a balance board and it actually measures what's going on. Then it would phone home to the therapist and they'd be able to check in on you."

Some games under the Golden Dome may get more attention, but Notre Dame's We-Hab has the potential to help the tens of thousands of stroke victims in the US every year get back in the most important game of all, life.
Kennedy, the graduate student who expanded the software, worked with 10 patients at Memorial over the last year, and initial results show the system has significant promise.

The therapists are certainly big fans, saying it really helps them better help their patients.

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