Existing research shows exercise could protect nerve cells affected by Parkinson's
A Conwy man is backing new research to find out if a popular video games console helps combat the symptoms of Parkinson's disease.
In a recent poll of people with Parkinson's who use the Nintendo Wii, eight out of ten respondents said they used it for exercise and two thirds felt it helped them manage their symptoms.
Vince Wells, a retired policeman from Conwy who was diagnosed with the disease four years ago, has always been a keen walker, windsurfer and skier.
He said: "You probably feel it more when you've always kept yourself fit and can't do things you used to do.
"But I've had the Wii for two years and I've found it really useful, especially the balance board.
"You can actually see where your centre of balance is on the TV, so you can see how you're improving. It also assists with general fitness and suppleness."
As Parkinson's develops, many people experience slowed movement, rigidity and tremor, as well as lack of balance and co-ordination.
These symptoms often get worse over time. Difficulty with memory and attention are also common.
Vince has programmed in a yoga and exercise routine to help him get ready for a skiing trip in the new year.
"I won't be skiing at my old level, but I think the Wii has helped in keeping my balance and the abilty to change weight from one leg to the other reasonably well," he said.
"There are a lot of balance games like skateboarding which are interesting to play and give you targets to beat. You're really playing against yourself."
In response to the testimony of Vince and others, charity Parkinson's UK has just given a grant of nearly £35,000 to Queen's University Belfast (QUB), to investigate the potential benefits of the Nintendo Wii to improve the balance, movements and mood of people with Parkinson's.
They will test the existing Wii system, as well as a new, specially designed movement-based software.
Dr Kieran Breen, director of research and development at Parkinson's UK, said: "This is just the kind of innovative and topical research we like to fund.
"We are hearing of more and more people who are finding it of benefit, and this research will explore the science behind it.
"It could lead to more people feeling confident about using the Wii in the comfort of their homes.
"The Wii also has the potential to be used as a way of measuring the symptoms for Parkinson's in future clinical trials of other treatments."
The research has also been supported by Dame Helen Mirren who appears in TV advertising for the Wii. In interviews this week she called for more public awareness and understanding of Parkinson's.