Video games Treats fibromyalgia and CFS

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Fibromyalgia, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) is a serious illness of biological origin characterized by profound physical and cognitive exhaustion and postexertion malaise. Pacing is a common strategy used to manage available energy and complete activities of daily living; yet little research has investigated this as a strategy to increase physical activity levels. Typically, people living with ME/CFS are faced by unique barriers to physical activity participation and are less physically active than healthy peers. As such they are at increased risk of physical inactivity-related health consequences. Active video games may be a feasible and acceptable avenue to deliver physical activity intervention by overcoming many of the reported barriers to participation.

I know it sounds odd, but according to the research video games may be what us fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome patients need to help ease our symptoms. Studies have shown playing video games can be helpful to these patients because;

1 >>Virtual reality games can reduce pain by distracting the patient’s brain.

2 >>The games may help critical thinking skills according to the American Psychological Association’s annual convention show.

Other ways these types of games can help is to give disabled patients something to do during the day. I know how boring it can get sometimes and I love having my computer as a means of some sort of activity.

In fact, a rapidly growing body of research shows that video games can be beneficial for general cognitive skills as well as countering the cognitive effects of aging and neurological illness.

Often referred to as fibro fog or brain fog, the cognitive problems linked to fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome can include a host of symptoms including:

1 >> Working (short-term) memory problems

2 >> Inability to multitask

3 >> Difficulty learning new skills

4 >> Language problems, such as forgetting common words or having trouble comprehending/retaining spoken language.

Video games haven’t been studied specifically for chronic fatigue syndrome, however many of the cognitive symptoms of this illness are similar to those of FMS and some research suggests that mechanisms may be the same or similar as well.


As of mid-2014, we only had one study looking specifically at video games and FMS.

It suggests that motion-controlled video games – such as Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 3 Move, and Microsoft Xbox Kinect – may have a couple of benefits for us.

Researchers had participants go through five sessions on each of those systems and evaluated their symptoms before and after. They say the games provided a distraction from pain as well as exercise. Participants said the PS3 tended to be too fast paced, the Xbox provided the best exercise, and the Wii had a nice slow pace.

The researchers point out that we often find exercise counter intuitive because it increases pain – something not all of them acknowledge. They further point out that games like these may offer an enjoyable form of low-impact exercise that could have benefits beyond cognitive function.

With such limited information on how these games impact those of us with FMS and ME/CFS, it may help to look at what research says about other neurological illnesses as well as the healthy brain.

It’s also important to look at research on aging, as some research suggests premature aging may contribute to cognitive dysfunction in FMS.

Other Neurological Illnesses

Research on other illness may not relate directly to FMS or ME/CFS, but it can illuminate the possibilities of game-related cognitive improvement in people with cognitive dysfunction.

A Spanish study of a Nintendo Wii program called Big brain Academy, which is a game-based cognitive training program, showed that it was more effective at slowing rates of Alzheimer‘s related mental decline than traditional pencil –and-paper tasks. It was also better at lessening symptoms of depression.

A 2014 study published in the journal Neurology looked at the cognitive benefits of motion-controlled games (in the case, a Nintendo Wii) versus a computer- based cognitive training program in the people with Parkinson’s disease. Researcher determined that using the Wii for sport games was at least as effective as the cognitive training program for people with this illness.

A 2013 study suggests that motion gaming has the potential to help autistic children with:


>>Social integration

>>Motor skills

>>Facial recognition

Aging Brains

Brain plasticity generally declines with aging. However, in a survey of casual video game play of different adult age groups, people reported beliefs that the games:

>>Made them mentally sharper and improved their memory (younger adults)

>>Improved their visuospatial skills and response times (older adults)

>>May offset declines in age-related brain function.

Another study looked at a multitasking game in 60-85 years old. A primary focus was the demand on the brain- in other words, how much of the brain’s resources it took to perform several functions at once.

With training, the older adult’s brains eventually needed fewer resources to multitask, even getting better results than untrained 20 year old participants. Electroencephalography showed that age-related deficits were actually reversed by the training.

Video games especially motion-controlled games are relatively new and research into their cognitive effects is in the early stages. More work needs to be done in all of these areas to tell us about what types of impact they have and what works best on different types of dysfunction.

Furthermore, researchers the benefits extended to other areas of cognition, including sustained attention and working memory, which lasted for 6 months beyond the conclusion of the study.

A survey of research on video games and the aging brain showed evidence for improvements in multiple cognitive functions, including;

>>Global cognitive function

>>Task switching

>>Reasoning abilities

>>Multiple memory types, including working memory

>>Reaction time

>>Executive function (planning, organization, strategy, attention and managing time and space)

However, it points out that the amount of increase varies greatly between studies, and that some studies have shown no impact at all on executive function.

Healthy brains

One major question is what types of cognitive functions video games improve-are them specific or widespread changes?

In a study on casual video-game play (meaning games not designed for the purpose of increasing cognitive ability), 15 hours of game play improved real-world performance in tasks associated with in-games tasks, but not in other areas of cognition. That means games requiring memory improve but not, say math skills or reasoning skills.

The same study showed that, in games that required reasoning, those with the lowest reasoning ability at the beginning showed the most gain.

However, some types of games may result in more wide-spread changes to brain function, according to a study of action-based video games.

Researchers cited earlier work showing that action games improved the speed of perceptual processing. They wanted to know whether that improvement extended to “cognitive flexibility” which is your ability to restructure knowledge in different ways as the situation changes.

They found that games emphasizing rapid switching between multiple sources of information along with action did appear to improve cognitive flexibility when measured by multiple real-world tasks.

Another area of focus for research is “brain plasticity” which refers to how well your brain is able to form new pathways in response to learning, behavioral changes, your environment etc. Video games may provide the additional benefit of distracting your brain enough to lessen your perception of pain.

Do you play video games and does it help to take your mind off of the pain? What is yourfavorite video game? Let me know by commenting!


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