Inhale, exhale

  Dr. Peter Bingham, a neurology professor at the College of Medicine, is developing therapeutic breath controlled video games for patients with asthma, cystic fibrosis and other breathing conditions. The basic idea is to connect the user to a device that records and displays breath flow on a computer, Bingham said. From there, various games can be created that allow the user to see and manipulate objects on the screen with his or her breath. By leading the player to complete recommended breath exercises, the games provide an incentive for patients to manage their own health, an important component of health care, he said.  “We’ve got fancy [Intensive Care Units] and we can do wonderful things with surgery, but the big healthcare problems in terms of health economics have to do with how people behave and how they take care of themselves,” Bingham said. “You have to find out what people’s motivation is and work with that,” he said. “That’s how people change. We know there’s a lot of motivation to play games.” Different diseases require unique breathing exercises.  The goal for asthma patients is to get them to be more self-aware of their own breathing, Bingham said. “You get to know your breath flow, which is the key issue in asthma, through an additional feedback, not just the feeling but [also] a visual signal,” he said.  “The idea is to become more tuned in. You can use that representation of flow to play games.” Cystic fibrosis patients have slightly different goals, Bingham said. “In the case of cystic fibrosis, the idea could be to lead the player to do these forced exhalations called huffs,” he said. “[They] are normally not so interesting or fun, but they are normally advised to do to clear their airwaves.” The games are still being developed, but eventually they could be packaged and sold as retail goods, Bingham said. “In principle it could be just a consumer item,” he said. “It wouldn’t have to be something you would get a prescription for. It’s safe.” When Bingham showed early versions of the games to some of his own patients, he said reactions were positive.  “The kids were interested in it, the families like the idea, so there’s a lot of appeal in this direction.”