Helen Mirren welcomes first ever UK Wii-habilitation study for Parkinson’s

Parkinson’s UK has awarded an innovation grant of nearly £35,000 to Dr Cathy Craig at the School of Psychology, Queen’s University Belfast, to investigate the potential benefits of the Nintendo Wii for people with Parkinson’s.

The charity has invested in this research because it has received overwhelming feedback from people with Parkinson’s who are finding that using a Wii is a really good way to exercise at home and has helped them with their balance, movements and mood. 

Existing research shows that exercise could protect the nerve cells that are dying in Parkinson's, helping them work better and survive for longer.

As Parkinson’s develops, many people experience slowed movement, rigidity and tremor, as well as lack of balance and co-ordination. These symptoms often get worse over time. Difficulty with memory and attention are also common for people with Parkinson’s.

In a recent snap poll1 of people with Parkinson’s who use the Wii eight out of ten (81 per cent) respondents said that they use it for exercise and two thirds (68 per cent) felt that using the Wii helps them manage their symptoms. One in three (30 per cent) respondents said that they use the Wii every day, while 39 per cent use it at least once a week.

Karen Rose, 47, from Bristol, is currently being featured in one of Nintendo’s real story TV adverts. She started using the Wii a couple of years ago and uses the Wii Fit.  She said: “Keeping moving is really important because of the stiffness. By doing the Wii I find that you loosen up the muscles that are constantly spasming.

“Most people with Parkinson’s find that they lose their confidence. So I tend to do exercise at home. I’ve got all the benefits of a gym, but I can do it to fit in with my lifestyle and my medication. It gives you a burst somehow, and it makes you feel better, and then you have a better day.”

Oscar winning actress Helen Mirren commented in the media this morning about how Parkinson’s affects the lives of people with the condition. She revealed that a good friend of hers was diagnosed with Parkinson's about 10 years ago.

This personal connection to Parkinson’s is the reason that she’s interested in how the Wii could help people with Parkinson's with their balance and she welcomed our research.

Dr Craig’s team aims are to evaluate the benefits of existing games using Wii technology and harness the power of this movement based game technology to develop their own specially designed bespoke games to be used by people with Parkinson’s.

The research aims to address two questions:

Does the use of the Wii system improve the physical abilities and lifestyle of people with Parkinson’s?

How do the various games improve specific symptoms of Parkinson’s including tremor, slowness of movement and balance?

Two groups of people with Parkinson’s will take part in the research. One group will be asked to use the existing Wii system. The second group will try out new, specially designed bespoke movement-based games.

Dr Craig said: “Our hope is to harness the benefits of the Wii technology to develop a system designed specifically for people with Parkinson’s. If the project is successful the benefits could be twofold. It could allow us to develop a simple way to assess Parkinson’s symptoms yet provide a safe and effective way for people with the condition to be more active and keep fit.”

Dr Kieran Breen, Director of Research and Development at Parkinson’s UK, said: “Exercise can help people with Parkinson's to control movements, improve balance and improve their mood and we are hearing of more and more people who are finding it of benefit, and this research will explore the science behind it.  

“It could lead to more people feeling confident about using the Wii in the comfort of their homes. The Wii also has the potential to be used as a way of measuring the symptoms for Parkinson’s in future clinical trials of other treatments.

“This is just the kind of innovative research we like to fund to help improve life for people affected by Parkinson’s, while we search for that all important cure.”

To find out more about Parkinson’s and the Wii visit parkinsons.org.uk/wii.