Playing these, especially ones like snap, can even help stroke patients recover. Canadian researchers have found they improve patients’ motor skills because of the need for coordinated movement, mobility and dexterity.
Playing Jenga, bingo or a games console such as a Nintendo Wii works just as well. It seems the actual task might be less important than how long, how intensively and how often it’s repeated to get hands and arms moving.
The study was designed to test whether virtual reality gaming, which is increasingly being used as rehab therapy for stroke patients, is any better than more traditional games for preserving movement skills in the upper limbs.
After recruiting 141 patients who’d recently suffered a stroke, and now had impaired movement in one or both of their hands and arms, half the patients were allocated to Wii rehab, while the rest did other recreational activities, such as playing cards.
All the patients continued to receive the usual stroke rehabilitation care and support on top of the 10, one-hour sessions of gaming or card playing for a fortnight. Both groups showed significant improvement in their motor skills at the end of two weeks and then four weeks. The researchers were impressed that both groups did equally well.
While it’s not clear from this study how much of the improvement was from the regular stroke care the participants received, other research suggests adding in more therapy is beneficial. Investigator Dr Gustavo Saposnik, from St Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Canada, said: “We all like technology and have the tendency to think new technology is better than old-fashioned strategies, but sometimes that’s not the case. In this study, we found that simple recreational activities that can be implemented anywhere may be as effective as technology.”
Alexis Wieroniey, of the UK’s Stroke Association, said the findings were particularly encouraging because they suggest that inexpensive, easily accessible activities can help some stroke survivors in their recovery.
“Thousands of stroke survivors are left with mobility problems and this can lead to a devastating loss of independence,” she added.
If you have a relative or friend who’s had a stroke, suggest getting out the cards or dominoes. Both of these are good because they require not only fine movements of the arms, hands and fingers, but clear thinking.