(CBS) There's no cure for Parkinson's disease, but symptoms of the debilitating neurological disorder sometimes respond to medication and surgery, along with physical therapy. And now researchers are touting a new and surprising weapon against Parkinson's.
They're talking computer games.
Parkinson's patients who played experimental computer-based physical therapy games experienced small improvements in balance and walking ability, according to a pilot study conducted by researchers at the University of California at San Francisco School of Nursing and a game maker. After playing the games three times a week for 12 weeks, more than half of the 20 participants showed improved balance, walking speed, and stride length, according to a written statement issued by the university.
Balance and gait problems are common among Parkinson's, which is marked by slowness of movement and muscular rigidity. One million Americans - mostly older men - have the disease, according to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation.
The nine experimental games - similar to the Wii and Kinect games that have become popular in recent years - reward players for moving their bodies in specific ways. And the games can be custom-programmed so that each player given an appropriate challenge.
"Each subject found his or her own gaming 'sweet spot' - the spot where the physical challenge was not too hard, not too easy, just right,'' Bob Hone, creative director of game maker Red Hill Studios, said in the statement. "And when subjects mastered one game level, they often moved on to harder levels for more beneficial effect."
What's next for researchers? You guessed it.
"Now that we have this preliminary positive result, we want to conduct a longer term clinical trial with more subjects to confirm these initial findings," researcher Dr. Glenna Dowling, professor and chair of the physiological nursing at UCSF.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more on Parkinson's disease.