X-Box Kinect could prove helpful in treating concussions

Could the new hands-free X-Box Kinect system help athletes suffering from a concussion recover quicker? That’s the question Cindy Hughes, head athletic therapist and manager of the Sport Injury Clinic at York, is tumbling around in her mind these days.

“There are all kinds of possibilities for its use in rehab,” she says.

The clinic, part of York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science in the Faculty of Health, recently purchased a 60-inch wide-screen television and X-Box Kinect system console with three different programs. It’s been set up in the clinic for several days, but already Hughes has had a patient recovering from a concussion try it out.

Ian McClure, a York student, demonstrates the X-Box Kinect systemLeft: Ian McClure, a York student, demonstrates the X-Box Kinect system

“We’re not planning to use it with people who have acute concussion, but if it’s been awhile, possibly a few months, I think it’s time to start retraining the brain,” says Hughes. She’s hoping the X-Box Kinect will help with that. This term alone, the clinic has seen 40 people, mostly University varsity athletes, walk through the door with a concussion.

The advantage of the X-Box Kinect is it’s a hands-free experience and picking up the motion of the person’s arms, hands, head, body, legs and feet without them having to hold or stand on anything.

The player has an on-screen avatar that moves with the player. If the player waves, so too does the avatar, and this is what Hughes thinks will make the system a valuable tool in helping athletes return to their games after a concussion. X-Box Kinect Sports contains a series of games that require the player to react to stimuli through physical movement using their hands, head and feet to  Cindy Hughes in the Sport Injury Clinic at Yorkplug leaks, hit balls or duck and jump obstacles as they pop up. In this way, Hughes says they can monitor how quickly the athlete is able to react to the on-screen stimuli.

Right: Cindy Hughes in the Sport Injury Clinic at York

“We have tools already to test the cognitive and we have tools to test the physical, but until now we haven’t had something that links the two like this does,” says Hughes. “You have to think, you have to react and you have to move, and that’s really what’s missing in our tools right now, something that combines all those things.”

She’s clear there is no research yet to back up her hunch, but that’s not stopping her from trying it out in the clinic and observing the results. She figures, the higher the score, the better the person is doing at thinking, reacting and moving.

 Ian McClure using a variety of moves and body parts to play the hands-free sports game using X-Box KinectLeft: Ian McClure using a variety of moves and body parts to play the hands-free sports game using X-Box Kinect

Right now at the clinic, they use a neurocognitive test, called an ImPACT test, widely used by professional sports teams. Every York varsity athlete must complete the impact test, which looks at the athlete’s working visual and verbal memory, reaction time and visual motor composite, to provide a baseline for the clinic should they ever have a concussion. The clinic also does balance testing on its athletes. That way, the therapists will know what the athlete was capable of doing before the injury and what they have to work toward.

Although concussions can cause lifetime health issues, they were not perceived as serious by many athletes and coaches until recently. “If you haven’t fully recovered and get a second concussion, they can develop second impact syndrome and that’s what we’re trying to avoid because that can lead to permanent brain damage or even death,” says Hughes.

This term, the clinic has seen about twice the number of concussion cases they saw all last academic year. Hughes puts it down in part to better reporting by athletes and coaches. Her attempts to educate the public about the dangers of concussions, is paying off.

She hopes the X-Box Kinect will prove helpful in getting athletes back to their game.

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