New video game counters stroke

The 'Stroke Hero' game stresses the importance of recognising symptoms and calling for help.

The 'Stroke Hero' game stresses the importance of recognising symptoms and calling for help. Picture: AFP

NEW YORK - A doctor who generally advises children to turn off electronic devices urges them to play Stroke Hero, a video game that teaches kids to identify stroke symptoms and summon help, according to a new study.

"While I recognise the hazards of video games, and I recognise the need to limit screen time, what better way to enable children to save lives than to have them play a video game?" Dr Olajide Williams said.

Americans suffer nearly 800,000 strokes a year, and on average, one American dies from stroke every four minutes, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Treatment administered within four and a half hours of the first signs of stroke can save lives and reverse disabling symptoms, said Williams, who is chief of neurology at Columbia University Medical Centre.

Better known as the Hip Hop Doc, Williams founded and runs Hip Hop Health, a public health organisation that works with rap stars like Doug E Fresh to promote healthy living through music, videos and games.

Williams and rapper Artie Green designed Stroke Hero for an experiment with 210 low-income nine- and 10-year-olds in New York's Harlem neighbourhood, where the neurologist estimates 15 to 20 percent of kids are raised by their grandparents - who are at high risk for stroke.

Some 25 percent of the fourth and fifth graders had a personal experience with a stroke victim, according to the study published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke.

The game stresses the importance of speed in recognising symptoms and immediately calling for help.

Players use medicine to shoot down clots blocking the flow of blood traveling from the heart to the brain. When the clot-busting drugs run out, players must answer questions about stroke to refill a syringe.

After playing the video game, children given a hypothetical scenario were 33 percent more likely to recognise stroke and call an ambulance, Williams said. Participants retained the knowledge when they were tested seven weeks later.

"We were particularly excited about the retention after seven weeks," Williams said. "How many academic curriculums can have that retention?"

Throughout the game, Green raps about signs of a brain attack. "Stroke, it'll cause weakness in both sides. . . . Stroke, you lose vision in both eyes. Make your speech slur when you talk," he sings.

"Never hesitate - call for help. Stroke doesn't care if you're black or white. Knowing all the symptoms will save your life."

About 90 percent of the participants reported liking the game, and 67 percent said they planned to play it at home.