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Wii Video Games May Improve Cognitive Abilities in Parkinsonís Disease

Playing sports games using video consoles such as the Nintendo Wii may improve some cognitive abilities in people with Parkinson’s disease (PD), according to a new study published in Neurology. In this study, Wii games worked as well or better than a computer program designed specifically for cognitive training. In addition, the Wii game console is less expensive and more entertaining than the computer program, researchers say.

People with PD often experience problems with attention and memory, which range in severity from mild cognitive impairment to full-blown dementia. Treating mild cognitive deficits could not only improve a person’s quality of life, but also might delay the onset of dementia. Unfortunately, there are no known medications that can successfully treat mild cognitive impairment in people with PD.

Computer programs designed to enhance cognition can improve cognitive problems in people with or without PD. However, some people find it difficult to apply the cognitive training, which focuses on specific tasks, to situations in their daily lives.

Researchers led by Peter Fuhr, M.D., at the University of Basel, in Switzerland, wondered whether Wii games, which involve movement and were not designed specifically for cognitive training, could improve cognitive abilities like attention, memory and visualization in people with PD, similarly to a cognitive-training computer program. So the researchers randomly assigned 39 people with PD who did not have dementia to two groups: one that played sports games (table tennis, swordplay, archery, and air sports) on the Nintendo Wii, and one that used the CogniPlus computer program, which provides training in specific cognitive abilities such as attention, memory, planning and response.

Each group trained three times per week for four weeks. To avoid falls, people remained seated while playing games on the Wii and also were seated for computer program training. The study participants performed neuropsychological tests before and after their four weeks of training.


  • Compared with CogniPlus, Wii training significantly enhanced attention in people with PD.
  • Wii training also appeared to improve visualization and memory of specific events better than CogniPlus, although these differences were not statistically significant.

What Does It Mean?

Cognitive impairment can be a frustrating aspect of life with PD. Previous studies have shown that cognitive training can improve memory and attention in people with PD, increasing their quality of life and perhaps delaying the onset of dementia.

In this study, contrary to the researchers’ expectations, Wii video games improved cognitive abilities in people with PD. Not only that, the people with PD who played the Wii games performed even better in tests of attention than those who used CogniPlus training.

In contrast to CogniPlus, Wii sports games are not designed to treat cognitive problems, rather they are meant for entertainment. However, other studies have shown that physical exercise, such as that obtained by using the Wii’s motion-detecting controllers, can improve cognitive abilities. Also, Wii games may enhance people’s ability to learn new tasks, which could better translate to situations they encounter in everyday life.

These results suggest that Wii video games may be a less expensive and more entertaining alternative to computer programs such as CogniPlus. Because many people consider Wii games fun, they may be more likely to play the games than to use computer programs designed for cognitive training, which might seem like work. Also, they could play them at home, without requiring the travel to a doctor’s office or the additional cost often required with cognitive-training programs.

Further research is needed to determine the details such as exactly how video game consoles, such as the Wii, can improve cognitive abilities, whether longer periods of training provide greater benefits, and whether the training actually improves performance in real-life situations. Nevertheless, game consoles represent an inexpensive and fun way to potentially improve cognitive performance. 

Reference: Zimmermann R, Gschwandtner U, Benz N, Hatz F, Schindler C, Taub E, Fuhr P (2014) Cognitive training in Parkinson disease: Cognition-specific vs nonspecific computer training. Neurology 82:1219–1226. DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000000287

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Source Date: Apr 30 2014