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Gaming to play a part in improving the lives of people with Parkinson’s

A revolutionary new trial of a gaming system is aiming to improve the lives of people living with Parkinson’s disease, all thanks to the funding from the estate of a generous donor by the name of Olga Mabel Woolger.

OrbIT - a unique gaming system - will be trialled as a cognitive training device to improve outcomes and delay dementia onset for people with Parkinson’s (Source: Shutterstock)
OrbIT - a unique gaming system - will be trialled as a cognitive training device to improve outcomes and delay dementia onset for people with Parkinson’s (Source: Shutterstock)

The unique gaming system called OrbIT will be trialled as a cognitive training device to improve outcomes and delay dementia onset for people with Parkinson’s in a three-year $90,000 study.

The study will be conducted by Flinders University Rehabilitation Engineer David Hobbs, and University of Adelaide neuroscientist Dr Lyndsey Collins-Praino, in partnership with Parkinson’s South Australia.

Engaging players in a targeted, cognitively challenging activity through the playing of specially designed computer games, the accessible, fun and stand-alone system’s controller design facilitates intuitive control without the need for grip and fine motor control. Something Dr Collins-Praino says is particularly important for individuals living with Parkinson’s disease, who may often struggle to use traditional gaming controllers.

“Cognitive decline is one of the most significant predictors of quality of life both for individuals living with Parkinson’s disease and their caregivers, and currently there are no effective treatments for it,” she says.

“We hope that the OrbIT system may be able to help individuals maintain, or even improve, their cognitive function by allowing us to target the areas that are most vulnerable in Parkinson’s disease.”

Currently Parkinson’s disease affects more than 110,000 Australians, with 38 new cases diagnosed every day.

Mr Hobbs says that while many people think of Parkinson’s as a motor disease, it can also be associated with a variety of non-motor impairments, including declines in cognitive function and memory.

He adds that within 20 years of diagnosis over 80 percent of individuals living with Parkinson’s disease go on to develop dementia.

“We believe the OrbIT gaming system, which was originally developed for children with cerebral palsy and has also been trialled with people undergoing stroke rehabilitation, has huge potential in other health areas because of the way it was designed,” he explains.

“We are really excited to partner with Parkinson’s SA and to uncover new applications for this technology to improve the lives of many people with this condition.”

The funding will enable the gaming system to be trialled through Parkinson’s SA’s new Brain x Body Fitness Studio, a studio designed to encourage neuroplasticity.

The trial will include both short-term and long-term follow up with individuals, in order to evaluate any lasting benefits of game play.

Parkinson’s SA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Olivia Nassaris says the project is a true example of collaboration.

“Parkinson’s South Australia is expanding our research portfolio in partnership with the talented minds from our South Australian universities,” Ms Nassaris explains.

“David Hobbs at Flinders University at Tonsley created something for one purpose, and Dr Lyndsey Collins-Praino at the University of Adelaide saw the potential for use and positive impact in another area.

“Together with Parkinson’s SA and the generosity of the estate of the late Olga Mabel Woolger, we have a project that potentially can improve the wellbeing of people living with Parkinson’s.”

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