Video games aren't just about make-believe and escapism. They may make a therapeutic difference.
A study published in Thursday's issue of the journal Stroke found a possible link between stroke patients playing virtual reality games and improving their ability to walk.
The recuperative powers of playing video games isn't known for sure because the study was based on a small sample and the volunteers were relatively young -- 10 stroke victims with an average age of 57.
Nonetheless, researchers call the findings promising, especially since the patients had strokes more than a year earlier, a period when recovery is unlikely.
In the games, the bodies of five of the 10 patients were superimposed into scenes simulating walking up stairs, swimming with sharks and snowboarding. Video-game therapy was done for an hour five days a week over a month.
Researchers said the patients' ability to walk, stand and climb steps improved compared with the five not given the therapy.
Brain imaging showed that brain function was reorganized after playing the video games, said Sung You, coauthor of the study.
Other stroke experts said more investigation is needed.
"It doesn't show that virtual reality is any better than any other intervention," said Dr. Allen Brown, medical director of brain rehabilitation at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.