Nintendo’s next move: entertaining healthcare

Nintendo, which has sold 100 million Wii consoles but is facing a shrinking market and increased competition in video gaming both from established companies like Sony and mobile gaming providers, has announced its intention to shift the notion of ‘entertainment’ into ‘quality of life’ (QOL) and health. This will be set up as a separate new business area. CEO Satoru Iwata said that Nintendo wants to “create an environment in which more people are conscious about their health and in turn expand Nintendo’s overall user base.” Although this sounds terribly vague, this Editor recalled that the Wii console had a brief vogue a few years ago in senior communities for fitness and that Editor Emeritus Steve had written about its use in rehabilitation and telehealth as far back as April 2008! (Additional articles here) One wonders what corporate imperatives discouraged the initial exploration of Wii for health. Now the field is thick with competitors from fitness bands (Jawbone, Fitbit, Misfit) to smartphones to Samsung’s new iterations of the Gear watch. Venture Beat.

Could virtual reality in games like Wii be useful therapy in relieving the phantom limb pain (PLP) from amputation? A recent Swedish study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience (abstract) indicate that it might. Researchers Max Ortiz Catalan and his colleagues developed an augmented reality therapy where muscle signals from the amputated arm activated a virtual arm that performed virtual tasks, and relieved the pain in a subject who had painful PLP for 48 years. “The patient reported that his pain gradually reduced, and he experienced pain-free periods over the course of his virtual reality treatments. He said his hand changed from feeling painfully clenched to feeling open and relaxed.” According to the article in Scientific American, the Swedish team has developed an at-home version if approved, and the technology may be adapted for other rehab such as post-stroke or spinal cord injury.  Also FierceHealthIT.

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