29 November 2008

Exercise the Wii way

Senior citizens’ therapy utilizes game system

Willietta Jackson, right, an occupational therapist assistant, helps Golden Living Center resident Claudia Demarnville use the Wii controller during a game of bowling.

Many years ago it was bowling alleys, heavy balls, and goofy shoes. These days, all she needs is a small controller, her Nintendo game system and a television.

“I always liked bowling,” said the rehabilitation patient at the Golden Living Center in Edwardsville about the Nintendo Wii bowling game. “I’d never heard of it before coming here. I enjoy it more. It’s good for my arm.”

Neff is just one of several Golden Living residents taking advantage of a new rehabilitation activity the center now offers. In July, the center’s therapists began using the Nintendo Wii, which is a video game system that has players physically move a hand-held controller to control the game’s action, as part of their physical therapy sessions.

“It can get boring at times,” said Armi Pecana, rehabilitation program coordinator for the center. “We try to change exercises, but it’s still exercise. (The Wii) is just a fun thing to do for everyone.”

Pecana said that the motions the patients make with the Wii controller help with problems such as balance, coordination and range of motion. The repetitive movement of rolling a bowling ball or casting a fishing line, Pecana said, are similar to other, traditional exercises, but with a more interesting twist.

The most popular games among the center’s residents are bowling, fishing, hunting and pool. Pecana said even the patients who don’t always participate in the games enjoy watching others play, and act as a cheering section for the competitors. In addition to therapy sessions the game system is used in recreation and social activities.

“They feel a sense of self-satisfaction,” said Patti Young, facility director, as she watches one patient throw her hands in the air in celebration of a strike. “They smile more than with traditional therapy.”

Friday morning therapy has become something to look forward to, Young said in a T-shirt that shows the iconic Rosie the Riveter holding a Wii controller with the slogan, “Wii can do it.” Between the snacks of popcorn and fruit to the cheering and game-playing, Young said the center is full of energy when the Wii is turned on.

The idea for using the Wii, Young said, came from the director of operations for the entire Golden Living community after reading about other places across the country that had already started the program. In addition to the Edwardsville location, the Golden Living Center in Lansing has also started its own Wii program.

Young said the installation of the Wii program is relevant as a younger generation enters the work force. She said technology is becoming more important and the center wants to move forward and take advantage of that whenever possible.

Because of the success of the Wii program, Young said she’s got big plans for the future. She would like to purchase a music game so the center could form a community band and members could play different instruments. She also thinks that a dance game might be appropriate for some patients.

“I think it’s very progressive step, utilizing technology with our senior population,” Young said. “As our population changes and we see more baby boomers with their cell phones and wireless Internet, we need to adapt.”

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