Researchers at Toronto's St. Michael's Hospital and the University of Toronto have analysed the existing data regarding the integration of video games and other "virtual reality" systems, and found a significant improvement in treatment outcome.
The team performed what is called a meta-analysis which looks at all of the existing research analyses and conglomerates it, and provides a number that indicates not just whether gaming helps at all, but by how much, percentage-wise. (In stats terminology, this is an "effect size".) According to Businessweek (which referenced the Wii and Sony's Eye Toy as the two household-name motion control interfaces among the many others included in these studies):
Among stroke patients in observational studies, those playing virtual reality games improved their upper arm strength by 14.7 percent and motor function -- or the ability to perform standard tasks -- by 20 percent.
These effect sizes are averaged across multiple studies using different methodologies and different video game interfaces, which is both a strength and a weakness of the research. The differences mean that some of the studies are not as comparable as others, and that this doesn't definitively say that any one method is best; however, since multiple methods involving video games and VR interfaces show results, this research strongly suggests that motion-control gaming in general can help rehabilitate stroke victims - by as much as 20% in addition to traditional therapy.
According to St. Michael's Hospital:
Between 55 and 75 per cent of stroke survivors experience motor problems in their arm. Yet conventional therapy - physiotherapy and occupational therapy - provide only "modest and sometimes delayed effects," said [Dr. Gustavo] Saposnik, also a Heart and Stroke Foundation-funded researcher.
Current research suggests effective therapy needs to be challenging, repetitive, task-specific and novel. Video games apply these concepts, helping the brain to heal through a process called neuroplasticity - the brain's ability to remodel itself after injury by creating new nerve cell connections.
Of course, in both Businessweek's and St. Michael's Hospital's articles Dr. Saposnik states that further research is needed. As is typical with many meta-analyses, this study suggests a greater trend in the research. Now it's time for researchers to take note and begin large-scale studies in to the phenomenon.