10 October 2008

Rehab patients: Wii would like to get better

Deborah Thompson, a 62-year-old mother who thrives on heart-pounding challenges like mountain climbing and biking, can't stand video games.

"I hate them," she said. "My son plays them, but I think it's the worst waste of time."

But there she stood recently, cheering herself on and pumping her fist each time she scored a point against her computer opponent - the Wii.

Thompson is recovering from a nagging knee injury and is now taking part in the latest video game craze for her rehabilitation.

Under the supervision of physical therapist Wen-Chih Shih at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Burlington, Thompson is one of about 40 patients who are boxing, bowling, playing tennis, golf, and baseball, all in the name of Wii-habilitation.

"It doesn't feel like work, and I guess that's the benefit," said Thompson of Lexington. "You can pretend you're Roger Federer."

Shih said she came up with the idea of using it for patients while playing her son's Nintendo Wii last winter. She did some research online and saw that she wasn't the only one who saw the game had potential to help her patients recover.

Across the nation, senior centers and rehabilitation centers are turning to the Wii to help the elderly improve balance and core muscle strength and patients heal from certain injuries. At the Littleton Senior Center, residents have even formed a weekly bowling league.

Though the Wii was developed for fun, Nintendo officials said they are thrilled the game is being used in other ways. They attribute the Wii's popularity to the fact that it's not intimidating to use and can be played with other people.

"We developed Wii to be a video game console that everyone could enjoy, regardless of their age, gender, or prior experience with video games," said Denise Kaigler, vice president of corporate affairs for Nintendo of America.

"We're glad that so many people are finding new ways to enjoy Wii and its games."

Shih said the interactive games force people to simulate the action they would make if they were playing the sport. Unlike traditional video games during which players sit in front of a screen, Wii players move around to swing the controller like a tennis racket, golf club, or bowling ball.

Shih said many of the games work on arm and shoulder movements, but other body parts can be worked as well. In tennis and bowling, for example, players must take steps similar to lunges, a traditional physical therapy exercise.

Now, when patients are far enough along in their rehabilitation to really work their bodies, Shih turns on the Wii for a tennis match instead of having them lunge back and forth across the room. She said it breaks up the monotony for both patients and therapists.

"If you swing, you automatically lunge," Shih said. "Instead of lunging five repetitions back and forth, they are actually doing something and getting feedback."

After a player completes a game or exercise, the Wii reports how he or she did and how to improve.

Shih said she thought the Wii would be a good motivating tool for teenagers, but it has worked well for all age groups - even those, like Thompson, who are adamantly opposed to video games.

"It's much more fun and you can keep challenging yourself," Thompson said. "To people who are used to exercising, it feels good."

Harvard Vanguard started the Wii-habilitation at its Burlington site, but Shih said she'd like to add it at other locations as space permits.

New England Rehabilitation Hospital at Billerica also started using the Wii during its physical therapy sessions about two months ago.

Joana Ingram, manager of the hospital's outpatient clinic, said about 50 patients have used the game and many have purchased one for their home.

The outpatient clinic, specializing in physical therapy, occupational therapy, and sports injuries, works primarily with the Wii Fit because it has a program that allows patients who have injured an ankle, for example, to work on regaining balance, Ingram said.

"It's been a wonderful thing for the patients," Ingram said. "It allows them to take their mind off their injury and be a kid by playing a game."

The Wii has also found its way into senior centers across the region, including Lexington, Littleton, Tewksbury, and, soon, Concord and North Andover.

Council on Aging officials said the Wii provides a way for seniors to get exercise and work on improving strength and balance, all in a fun, nonthreatening environment.

Donna Delaney, outreach coordinator for the senior center in North Andover, said seniors are looking forward to the new game.

She said the Wii will be available after the center completes its renovation project in the coming months.

"I understand there are a lot of good balance and coordination exercises for the seniors," Delaney said. "If they can improve their balance, they'll be more safe walking and have less falls and broken bones."

Concord also has a Wii that will be available for seniors later this month.

Lori Kalinoski, the program supervisor for the Concord Council on Aging, said many seniors are eager to try it because they've seen their children or grandchildren play video games.

Kalinoski said the center offers many exercise programs but the Wii will be another option for seniors who aren't interested in taking a high-impact class.

"It's a way of using new technology that's a nonthreatening way to have fun and get some exercise," she said. "It seems like it's a nice way to exercise."

The seniors in Littleton have been using the Wii since the spring after a high school student group did a project testing seniors' reflexes and reactions to different games. The seniors liked the games so much, the center bought its own.

Roberta Ware, 73, and three friends have formed an informal Wii bowling league.

"We're having a lot of fun with it, and it's great exercise," Ware said. "We play once a week here, and hopefully the group will grow."

No comments:

Post a Comment