The objective of the research, carried out by the Niño Jesús University Children’s Hospital with the support of Convives con Espasticidad (Living with Spasticity), was to generate a strategy that will help children with severe motor impairment to regain control of their neck and posture.

The Research programme to improve head and torso functionality in children with cerebral palsy has concluded. The study, carried out by the Niño Jesús University Children’s Hospital, has concluded that the therapeutic use of videogames played using the Enlaza interface, developed by the Spanish National Science Research Council (CSIC), can lead to improvements in the development of children with severe cerebral palsy. The objective of the study, which was funded by the Ramon Molinas Foundation and had the support of Convives con Espasticidad (Living with Spasticity), was to develop a new rehabilitation strategy using videogames to help children with severe motor impairment to regain control of their neck and posture.

Lead researcher of the study and member of the interdisciplinary team of Convives con Espasticidad, Doctor Sergio Lerma, stated that “the sensor allows children to interact with the game itself, so they can do their exercises whilst having fun. It functions as an important stimulus that allows therapeutic techniques to be performed outside of clinical environments, such as at home, at school or with friends”. He also highlighted that “the children that participated were very motivated by the novelty of being able to interact with videogames and use the controls with ease. This motivation has shown itself to be a key factor in neuroplasticity and the learning of new movements”.

One of the children that participated in the study, interacting with the Enlaza videogame.

The data obtained showed that, the metrics used to measure the control of the child over their head and videogame-related skills (score, speed, and the amount of help they needed) both improved significantly. “It is important to remember that the participants were children with severe motor impairment, so showing improvement after only 20 sessions is very significant from a clinical point of view”, Lerma explains.

The study began in January of 2016 at the Niño Jesús University Children’s Hospital. A total of 31 children with neurological disorders (the majority cerebral palsy) participated, all between 4 and 17 years old. The data presented refers to a total of 20 children who were able to complete all the training sessions and qualified to be included in the study.

Jimena was one of the study’s participants. She has low cephalic and torso control but “after starting the exercises with Enlaza, she began to move better, and discovered that she could move forward”, explained her mother, Carmen Martínez. For them, the experience has been very gratifying because, as Carmen says, “playing is the best way for children to learn, and to see physical therapy as something entertaining and fun that also helps them”. Now she would love to see more videogames developed, “that are simple, so that we can also use them at home”. However, Doctor Lerma, Dean of the Health Sciences Faculty at CSEU La Salle, states that “despite the hopeful results, we will still need to conduct research incorporating more children, and using games with more attractive designs”. He also proposes studying the use of videogames for longer periods of time and in the child’s home, “creating a new therapy strategy that is less dependent on health clinics and closer to the everyday life of the child and their family”.

In Spain there are 81,400 people with cerebral palsy, which is the most common cause of permanent severe physical disability in children. They often show deterioration in limb, torso, and head control, which affects activities in their daily life such as communication, breathing and socialisation. However, the majority of studies on children focus on the evaluation and treatment of limbs, with few centred around control of the head and torso.    

 

More information at Training and research.