Gaming is therapeutic for disabled people

For some people who play video games, it’s much more than fun. It’s just what the doctor ordered.

ANN HARBOR, Mich. – More than 130 million people play video games. But for some, it’s about much more than fun. In fact, it’s just what the doctor ordered.

Michael Heinrich loves playing video games. But unlike most gamers who use standard controls, Heinrich needs to use a specialized, adaptive console. That’s because he lost partial use of his hands after a motorcycle accident left him a quadriplegic.

“I can’t just push buttons, cause you know my thumbs don’t move down,” Heinrich said.

He couldn’t raise his arms over his head. So, the controllers were placed up high to build strength.

“I was trying to strength train my triceps by hitting buttons and holding them up in the air for an extended period of time,” he said.

Therapeutic and adaptive gaming is used to help with spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, stroke, amputation, and other disabilities. This is one of only a handful of labs like this in the country. They play games, like Candy Crush, Plants and Zombies, or Rocket Launch.

“So, we would put it towards their head if they were working towards putting their shirt on, we would put it towards their mouth if they were working to feed themselves,” said Robert Ferguson, MHS, OTRL an occupational therapy clinical specialist at the University of Michigan.

For many patients, the rehab doesn’t feel like hard work because they are so immersed in the game. And for some like Heinrich, it’s about more than physical improvements. It’s about being able to play games for fun as well. He’s one of 46 million disabled gamers.

“It was let me engage into a community, let me be a part of something that is not just me working on my weights, but like me being able to play with my friends,” exclaimed Heinrich.

Many companies, like Microsoft, make adaptive controllers. They range in price from about a hundred dollars to over a thousand.