The unconventional route one Nevada hospital is taking with Parkinson’s patients

  • The hospital, in Henderson, Nevada is using gameplay to treat patients
  • It’s believed that playing casino games could help mental flexibility and memory

Parkinson’s disease is a devastating condition that affects more than 10 million people worldwide. Recently, one hospital in Nevada has taken a new approach to helping Parkinson’s patients through rehab. And it’s unconventional, to say the least.


The HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital in Henderson, Nevada has employed a new method of treatment that is aimed at helping players improve their coordination through certain body movements.

It involves patients practising these movements through playing games.

Therapists and doctors at the hospital are hopeful that, through the incorporation of the new technique into patients’ overall rehab programme they will see beneficial results and potentially improve patients’ overall quality of life.

“What we’re really looking to improve with the games are executive-functioning skills,” says Sarah Tempest, a speech pathologist at HealthSouth.

“The things we are really addressing with that are attention, mental flexibility, self-regulation and working memory.”

How is it being done?

Here’s where it gets interesting, and it’s likely not what you imagined. However, Vegas being Vegas means that the hospital has installed two video poker machines to help its Parkinson’s patients in their therapy.

Although video poker only requires patients to sit at a terminal and push buttons, the activity is said to help them to re-learn impulse control. By playing the games and making decisions regarding the movement of their hands patients work their pre-frontal lobes, which are vital for the brain to coordinate the body’s movements.

A Double-Edged Sword?

Some, however are unsure of the viability of the treatment, suggesting that Parkinson’s and gambling already have a link – albeit a tenuous one.

Dopamine agonists are commonly prescribed to Parkinson’s patients, but they have can have adverse effects that potentially lead to “impulse control disorder”. This condition can cause patients on dopamine agonists to sometimes develop significant addictions to gambling, sex and alcohol. In fact, in one reported test case seven out of 11 people developed a pathological gambling addition in one to three months – four of those had never gambled prior to taking the medication.

With this in mind, it has been suggested that encouraging Parkinson’s patients to play gaming machines could have its drawbacks. Patients who are currently undergoing treatment using dopamine agonists could be at risk of developing a gambling problem, and medical professionals at the HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital – who are hopeful of the program’s success – are to closely monitor their progress.

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