Video games used to treat childhood bed-wetting


by JIM BERGAMO / KVUE News and photojournalist Dennis Thomas and editor Melanie Gomez

Posted on September 17, 2013 at 11:58 AM

AUSTIN -- We all know how much kids love video games, but what if that technology could be used for more than fun and games?

Doctors in Austin are doing just that -- using video games to help children who suffer from frequent bed-wetting and other urinary accidents.

It's a pretty normal sight -- a 5-year-old enjoying a video game. However, Kaylen Black isn't at home or school. She's at her pediatric urologist's office.

"She would have accidents," said Alyssa Black, Kaylen's mother. "I could tell she was really trying to control it, but she just couldn't. She wasn't doing it on purpose."

It's called dysfunctional voiding -- or urinary incontinence.

"The kids with incontinence issues -- their problem more so deals with their inability to relax," said Amanda Ramos-Hodge, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Children's Urology.  

"So the challenge was really looking at a way to help children identify muscles that they didn't even know that they had," said Leslie McQuiston, M.D., a pediatric urologist at Children's Urology. 

Children are given a series of exercises to work their pelvic floor region. After those muscles are strengthened, it's time to let the video games begin.

"Participation on the part of the child is so critical when it comes to this stuff," said McQuiston. "Having something we can really sell to a 5-year-old or a 14-year-old is really, really important."

The computer video game is the biofeedback portion of the therapy. Tiny electromyogram pads, just like ones used for an EKG, are attached to Kaylen's legs. Those sensors relay how well her  muscles are contracting and relaxing -- so Kaylen's therapist, Laura Castro, can see. More importantly, Kaylen can see for herself.

"I use my muscles, my tummy muscles, to control the fairy, to turn the little bees into pink fairies - little pink fairies," said Kaylen.

When Kaylen began the therapy a month ago, very few bees were turning into little pink fairies.  Now those bees don't stand a chance.

"It really keeps her engaged, and she remembers that," said Black. "Playing the video games helps her to remember which muscles to use and when. It's really helped her confidence."

Some kids only need the pelvic floor exercises. If a child needs the full biofeedback therapy using the video games, they have one session a week for a month, then their progress is monitored for another month.

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