Wii-Hab: Gaming’s Contribution to Treating Parkinson’s Disease

With every move you make, a chemical called dopamine sends a message to your brain to tell your muscles to function. When the dopamine supply is seriously depleted, messages cannot be transmitted efficiently, and the body cannot respond as easily. Imagine having your supply of dopamine cut down by eighty percent. That’s Parkinson’s disease (PD). With a bevy of medications available to deal with both physical and cognitive symptoms, the real challenge is finding non-pharmaceutical forms of relief.

Fortunately, good doctors prescribe exercise as seriously as they do drugs. A study at the University of Pittsburgh found that an exercise regimen slowed down the degeneration of nerve cells in rats with PD. Research is now occurring to find concrete evidence that this benefit also applies to humans.

Recently, a forward-thinking man named Dr. Ben Herz garnered a $45,000 grant from the National Parkinson’s Foundation to perform a study of his own. At the Medical College of Georgia, Dr. Herz determined that the Nintendo Wii may help treat symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, including impaired motor skills and depression. Dr. Herz, director of the School of Allied Health Sciences Department of Occupational Therapy, presented his preliminary findings at the 2009 Games for Health Conference in Boston.

He theorized that the Wii, which simulates sports and activities, could aid in improving coordination, reflexes and fine motor-skills. Patients can use Wii as an occupational therapy tool on their own, administering a sense of autonomy and control.

In the eight-week pilot study, twenty Parkinson’s patients spent an hour playing the Wii three times a week for a month. These patients played two games each of bowling and tennis, as well as a game of boxing. These games were chosen because they require balance, a quick pace, and exercise.

Participants showed notable improvements in rigidity, movement, fine motor skills, energy and depression. Since depression afflicts an estimated forty-five percent of patients, this aspect of the study is particularly inspiring. Studies show that both video games and exercise can enhance the brain’s ability to produce dopamine. Dr. Herz believes that is why the Wii’s exercise aspect has such a positive effect on patients.

Although Dr. Herz doesn’t claim to have found an alternative to medicine, he is certain that game systems are truly the future of rehabilitation. It seems fairly obvious that these effects should be explored further – for PD as well as other neurological and degenerative disorders.

British physiotherapist Rebecca Redmond has created a website (wiihabilitation.co.uk) and online community for people who use the Wii as a form of rehabilitation. The site has a place for both professionals and the public to learn and discuss the benefits of Wii. Redmond also posts articles and findings on her Twitter feed: @Wii_Hab.

After the Wii study concluded, about sixty percent of the participants chose to purchase their own consoles. As with any ailment, finding a remedy that offers relief is a welcome gift. Parkinson’s disease is on the forefront of stem cell research, with a cure truly possible in the near future. Until then, therapies like Wii should be used in conjunction with pharmaceutical drugs to slow the disease’s progression and enhance a patient’s quality of life.

You’re the (Nexus) One That I Want: Confessions of an iPhone Lover Gone Astray

To protect the innocent, names have been changed. In this publication, a once-faithful iPhone lover will be referred to with a fictional Twitter name: @madluv4iPhn.

A recent tweet:

@madluv4iPhn Dear iPhone – I’ve met someone new named the Nexus One. I’m strangely attracted to her and need a few days to figure this all out.

I initiated a conversation with @madluv4iPhn to understand his reasons for leaving his iPhone.  The first reason he provided is that the Nexus One serves as a much better telephone than the iPhone. Inconsistent coverage has been a general gripe of the iPhone user population. The Nexus One provides more consistent service with improved sound quality and fewer dropped calls.  To be fair, iPhone’s AT&T service is greatly responsible for the frustrating inconsistency of their calls. Interestingly enough, T Mobile has served the Nexus One very well so far, despite its general criticism for inconsistent coverage.

Another captivating feature is the Nexus One’s ability to sync flawlessly with Google applications. Granted, it is a Google phone, but these applications are seamless in comparison to their counterparts on the iPhone. On the Gmail client, one can even sync contacts with Facebook contacts to include profile pictures and status updates.

Google has realized that, despite anti-texting/talking cell phone laws, people will continue to use their phones on the road. The Nexus One has taken the initiative to create voice command functionalities that make driving while talking or texting a safer endeavor.  The “talk to text” function allows you to dictate text messages and has surprisingly accurate results.  The GPS navigation system can announce the directions aloud while you drive.

In addition to the aforementioned capabilities, the Nexus One’s processing speed is incredibly fast, vastly enhancing the internet browsing experience. The 5.0 megapixel camera, trumps the iPhone’s and is complete with an LED flash. The Nexus One is an unlocked device, allowing you to choose your own provider.

The Nexus One’s multitasking capabilities add another level of convenience for the ever-busy smart phone user.  Any notifications appear in their own section that you can view without interrupting other running applications.  Unlike the iPhone, Pandora can play music in the background amidst other running applications.

When asked what he misses about iPhone, @madluv4iPhn noted the ease of iTunes, the apps, and gaming capacity that the iPhone possesses.  The Nexus One’s media player is ugly compared to iTunes. The iPhone is simply a better gaming device and the App Store offers better apps. The Nexus One has hardly enough space to store games and the Android Market’s 20,000 apps leave something to be desired.

While there are in a bevy of perks that the Nexus One has to offer, the ultimate choice comes down to personal preference. The iPhone is a beautiful, simple device that even children can use with ease. The Nexus One, however, boasts the forefront in smartphone technology.  Admittedly, leaving the iPhone behind was bittersweet for @madluv4iPhn. Even so, the Nexus One is his soulmate.  You just can’t argue with fate.

N Squared: Netflix & Nintendo’s Wii Team Up

Netflix and Nintendo recently announced plans to bring a little more joy into the world. To the delight of twenty-six million US Wii owners, Netflix’s online streaming video service will soon be available through Nintendo’s Wii gaming console. Netflix, based in the Bay Area, boasts eleven million subscribers to its DVD-by-mail business. Fifty percent of those users are also viewing movies and shows online – an enormous growth from the twenty percent that used the service when it was first offered. Netflix attributes its dramatic growth to the streaming media technology.  It’s a no-brainer that adding Wii to the mix will contribute to a steady growth in the service.

If you’re not hip to the Netflix jive, here’s how it works:  On Netflix, internet video streaming, notated as “Watch Instantly” on the site, is available free with regular subscription service. This functionality enables viewers to watch movies directly on a PC or TV. Videos can also be viewed on Blu-ray players, Roku set-top boxes, and gaming consoles.  Wii, the gaming industry’s most popular console, will be the third console to offer the service.

To utilize the service with no extra fees, Wii owners need to have a broadband Internet connection and an unlimited Netflix subscription plan. These plans start at $8.99 per month. There is a free software disc that Wii owners must pop into their console when they want to watch a movie. These discs can easily be requested on the Netflix website now for free shipment when they become available this spring.

Two competing consoles, the Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360, already offer the Netflix service. Netflix’s streaming catalog can also be accessed by LG and Samsung Blu-ray players, TiVo, a set-top box from Roku, and even some TVs. In order to compete with the PS3 and Xbox’s high-definition streaming video power, it might behoove Nintendo to develop an HD version for the Wii.  Although there had been some speculation about it, Nintendo confirmed that they will not be releasing Wii in HD. The company maintains that their focus is on the gameplay experience, not visuals.

Currently, Netflix’s streaming service features more than 17,000 movies and recorded television shows. At a time when Americans are forced trim down expenses, Netflix’s choice to capitalize on the streaming media is improving their staying power. The service is cost effective and provides the viewer with a greater depth of service. This value has the potential to encourage subscribers to keep Netflix in queue, if you will.

Join the Wave: Google’s Not-So-Secret Society


I recently received an invitation to the most exclusive group in town; a Cool Kids Club, if you will. The fact that this tight-knit group is comprised of 100,000+ cool kids is of no concern to me. The way I see it, the world is now separated into two groups of people: those who been invited to preview Google Wave and those who haven’t.  Whether or not you have been chosen, I invite you to read this enlightening overview of the platform.

Google Wave is a brand new, real-time communication service that three Australian masterminds created, all of whom were previously involved in Google Maps. It is a conglomerate of different aspects of email, instant messaging, and wikis. Web chat, social networking, and project management are also featured in the platform. These functions all work together to build what Mashable Online has dubbed “one elegant, in-browser communication client.”

A wave is a threaded conversation that can include one other user, a group of users, or even robots.  A robot is an automated participant inside a specific wave that can interact with waves and converse with other users. These robots can offer information from external sources, such as Twitter, and are considered extensions.

Extensions are mini-applications that function within a wave.  Along with robots, gadgets also exist as primary extensions. Gadgets are like Facebook apps and many of them are built on Google’s OpenSocial platform.  Google Wave gives developers the opportunity to build applications and these extensions within waves, like with a Facebook application or an iGoogle gadget. These can consist of anything from bots to intricate, real-time games. To encourage innovation among developers, the Google Wave code is open source.

Another attractive function that Google Wave offers is real-time chat.  This chat allows the user, most times, to see what another member of the wave is typing, character-by-character. Google Wave also has a playback function so you can review any piece of the wave’s conversation.  Since all conversations within a platform are shared, any user within a developing conversation can edit information or add commentary. This feature is especially helpful in keeping one’s waves focused and concise. Initial reactions to real-time chatting can result in messages like, “OMG!!! I can see you typing!!!!! This is so cool!” The wiki functionality allows you to tidy up this enthusiasm.

As if it’s not enough that Google Wave is good-looking and popular, it also knows natural language. It can autocorrect your spelling and knows the difference between similar words, such as “red” and “read.” Google Wave can also auto-translate at the drop of a hat.

To those of you longingly watching this dance party from outside the discotech, don’t lose hope.  Google Wave awards those who obsessively update their waves with a slew of invites to extend to friends.  So, ask around and find that one friend who will welcome you in to the clique.

Put Down Your Magic 8-Ball: Social Media Predictions for 2010


As 2009 nears its end, bloggers are busy posting their predictions about the future of social media. Three of the most prevalent predictions regarding social media’s potential developments in 2010 are: social media functioning as a corporate marketing tool, the rise of new location based applications and networks, and a marked shift from trend to standard in business communication.

As companies wade through the economic recession, social media will continue to grow. In search of new marketing strategies, businesses will realize that social networking can serve as an economically sound marketing tool. In order to reap the greatest benefit from social media, companies will need to regard social media as a relationship rather than a marketing campaign. Companies already reach vast audiences through Twitter feeds and Facebook fan pages. This fluid social environment empowers companies and consumers to distribute, receive, and share information on these social networks. A progressive business will strive to create a symbiotic relationship with its consumer base. A corporate social media presence that can effectively adapt to consumers’ ever-changing needs, wants, and desires will enable both parties to thrive.

In 2010, location based applications and networks may take the lead in the social media movement. This summer, Mashable Online announced that Foursquare showed potential to become the next Twitter. This location-based social network helps connect friends using GPS via a mobile device, as well as an added layer of social gameplay. Earlier this year, Foursquare saw its first major web success at SXSW.  Foursquare does have a growing user base, but remains a  misunderstood service.  Foursquare’s current situation is markedly reminiscent of Twitter’s own situation two years ago. Considering the incredible growth that Twitter has experienced since then, this bodes well for Foursquare.

In addition to specifically location based services, existing successful social networks like Twitter are expanding their location capabilities. iPhone users can find Twitter apps with a “nearby” mode to help them locate people in the area.  Businesses can capitalize on the advantage to more effectively target their consumer base.

The final major shift that we may see in 2010 is social media’s transformation into a solid aspect of business communication. Amidst the recent speculation about Twitter’s possible demise, bloggers predict that the shift in Twitter’s user base may not be a negative one. Twitter should become an everyday communication tool, rather than a new marketing toy. “The technology will begin to fade into the background so that people can focus on the relationships that are created because of the technologies, not the technologies themselves” (@charleneli).  In any case, the web environment should see a subtle yet important shift in social media’s importance and legitimacy in the business world.

Predictions are an aggregate of ideas of people in “the know.” In social media, however, we are the ones who create the experience. So, Tweet this if you wish, and know that ultimately you will create these shifts in our web environment.