Wii Balance Board induces changes in the brains of MS patients

August 26, 2014
This flowchart shows the study protocol. Credit: Radiological Society of North America

A balance board accessory for a popular video game console can help people with multiple sclerosis (MS) reduce their risk of accidental falls, according to new research published online in the journal Radiology. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans showed that use of the Nintendo Wii Balance Board system appears to induce favorable changes in brain connections associated with balance and movement.

Balance impairment is one of the most common and disabling symptoms of MS, a disease of the in which the body's immune system attacks the protective sheath around nerve fibers. Physical rehabilitation is often used to preserve balance, and one of the more promising new tools is the Wii Balance Board System, a battery-powered device about the size and shape of a bathroom scale. Users stand on the board and shift their weight as they follow the action on the television screen during games like slalom skiing.

While Wii balance board rehabilitation has been reported as effective in patients with MS, little is known about the underlying physiological basis for any improvements in balance.

Researchers recently used an MRI technique called (DTI) to study changes in the brains of 27 MS patients who underwent a 12-week intervention using Wii balance board-based visual feedback training. DTI is a non-conventional MRI technique that allows detailed analysis of the white matter tracts that transmit nervous signals through the brain and body.

The figure shows the starting point (in red, left image), the ending point (in yellow, center image) and the three dimensional rendering (in green, right image) of the nerve tracts examined in the study. Credit: Radiological Society of North America

MRI scans of the MS patients showed significant effects in nerve tracts that are important in balance and movement. The changes seen on MRI correlated with improvements in balance as measured by an assessment technique called posturography.

These brain changes in MS patients are likely a manifestation of neural plasticity, or the ability of the brain to adapt and form new connections throughout life, according to lead author Luca Prosperini, M.D., Ph.D., from Sapienza University in Rome, Italy.

"The most important finding in this study is that a task-oriented and repetitive training aimed at managing a specific symptom is highly effective and induces ," he said. "More specifically, the improvements promoted by the Wii can reduce the risk of accidental falls in patients with MS, thereby reducing the risk of fall-related comorbidities like trauma and fractures."

Dr. Prosperini noted that similar plasticity has been described in persons who play video games, but the exact mechanisms behind the phenomenon are still unknown. He hypothesized that changes can occur at the cellular level within the brain and may be related to myelination, the process of building the protective sheath around the nerves.

This flowchart shows subject selection. Credit: Radiological Society of North America

The rehabilitation-induced improvements did not persist after the patients discontinued the training protocol, Dr. Prosperini said, most likely because certain skills related to structural changes to the after an injury need to be maintained through training.

"This finding should have an important impact on the rehabilitation process of patients, suggesting that they need ongoing exercises to maintain good performance in daily living activities," Dr. Prosperini said.

Explore further: Imaging scientists develop a better tool for tracking MS

More information: "Multiple Sclerosis: Changes in Microarchitecture of White Matter Tracts after Training with a Video Game Balance Board." Radiology, 2014.

Related Stories

Imaging scientists develop a better tool for tracking MS

May 27, 2014
Imaging scientists at Western University's Robarts Research Institute (London, Canada) have developed a better way to track the progression of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) from its earliest stages. Led by Ravi Menon, PhD, the ...

Cognitive rehabilitation improves brain performance in patients with MS

February 22, 2012
In a new study published in the March issue of Radiology, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) shows that cognitive rehabilitation changes brain function and improves cognitive performance in patients with relapsing-remitting ...

New study of self-awareness in MS has implications for rehabilitation

August 22, 2014
A new study of self-awareness by Kessler Foundation researchers shows that persons with multiple sclerosis (MS) may be able to improve their self-awareness through task-oriented cognitive rehabilitation. The study was epublished ...

MRI findings shed light on multiple sclerosis

August 21, 2012
New magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) research shows that changes in brain blood flow associated with vein abnormalities are not specific for multiple sclerosis (MS) and do not contribute to its severity, despite what some ...

People with MS-related memory and attention problems have signs of extensive brain damage

March 6, 2013
People with multiple sclerosis (MS) who have cognitive problems, or problems with memory, attention, and concentration, have more damage to areas of the brain involved in cognitive processes than people with MS who do not ...

Recommended for you

In witnessing the brain's 'aha!' moment, scientists shed light on biology of consciousness

July 27, 2017
Columbia scientists have identified the brain's 'aha!' moment—that flash in time when you suddenly become aware of information, such as knowing the answer to a difficult question. Today's findings in humans, combined with ...

Scientists block evolution's molecular nerve pruning in rodents

July 27, 2017
Researchers investigating why some people suffer from motor disabilities report they may have dialed back evolution's clock a few ticks by blocking molecular pruning of sophisticated brain-to-limb nerve connections in maturing ...

Social influences can override aggression in male mice, study shows

July 27, 2017
Stanford University School of Medicine investigators have identified a cluster of nerve cells in the male mouse's brain that, when activated, triggers territorial rage in a variety of situations. Activating the same cluster ...

Scientists become research subjects in after-hours brain-scanning project

July 27, 2017
A quest to analyze the unique features of individual human brains evolved into the so-called Midnight Scan Club, a group of scientists who had big ideas but almost no funding and little time to research the trillions of neural ...

Researchers reveal unusual chemistry of protein with role in neurodegenerative disorders

July 27, 2017
A common feature of neurodegenerative diseases is the formation of permanent tangles of insoluble proteins in cells. The beta-amyloid plaques found in people with Alzheimer's disease and the inclusion bodies in motor neurons ...

Mother's brain reward response to offspring reduced by substance addiction

July 27, 2017
Maternal addiction and its effects on children is a major public health problem, often leading to high rates of child abuse, neglect and foster care placement. In a study published today in the journal Human Brain Mapping, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.