30 November 2008

Therapists use video games to motivate patients

While gamers spend countless hours in front of television screens and battle thumb fatigue on a daily basis, they may meet their match if they do battle with some local therapy patients.

The Thibodaux Regional Medical Center’s Outpatient Rehabilitation program has found a new, fun way to carry out its mission and in the strangest of ways … video games.

The program is one of a kind in the bayou region, using the Nintendo Wii gaming system to aid in outpatient physical rehabilitation.

“We’ve used the Nintendo Wii for the last five months with appropriate patients in our clinic,” said Jason Ledet, program director of both in- and outpatient programs for Thibodaux Regional Medical Center.

He said appropriate patients fall under several categories including patients with balance issues, strokes and brain injuries.

“The patient has to be capable of some physical activity before being allowed the use of the treatment,” Ledet said.

Rehab officials say they have received positive feedback from the gaming system’s use.

“Most of our patients really enjoy it; the kids love it,” physical therapist Jennifer Matherne said. “Some of our older patients enjoy it too; those with head injuries or strokes – it’s a challenge for them but it also let’s them play a little and help them to remember they can still have fun.”

Ledet said the particular game used is dependent upon the patient and their needs.

“We’ve used tennis, golf, bowling and especially the Wii fitness game which we use to improve balance and weight shifts,” he said.

The use of the system has been a motivating factor in the clinic and all of the games used are designed to help the patients with visual goals.

“It also challenges our patients on a competitive basis; we have patients that love to compete against each other,” Ledet said.

He said he recalls walking into a therapy session and witnessing a contest between a young and much-older patient.

“It was great to see the generation gap bridged and to see two completely different age groups combining, connecting and working together towards the same goals,” Ledet said. “You do see that very often in this line of work.”

While the Nintendo Wii has only been on the market for a few years, medical experts have been unable to conduct long-term studies on the effectiveness of the system, but local therapists say they can see the benefit of the unorthodox training.

“I believe it does work, in conjunction of course with other, more traditional therapeutic techniques,” Matherne said. The gaming treatment works especially well for “neurological patients who have trouble with balance, basic coordination, hand-eye coordination, lower extremity coordination and endurance. We also use the games to assess the patient’s ability to follow a task from start to finish.”

She said the new system allows for a self-motivating rehab session.

“Patients have to stand for an entire game of bowling, but the fact that there is some fun involved helps motivate the patient to follow through,” Matherne said. “We always try to make therapy sessions fun and challenging. The use of the Wii has made this easier for us because it really helps when the patient is looking forward to their session.”

Thibodaux Regional Medical Center isn’t the only facility that has welcomed the use of the trend-setting technology.

The Terrebonne Parish Library System offers exercise sessions twice a month for senior citizens using the Nintendo Wii. Classes are scheduled for 2 to 3:30 p.m. the second Monday in the large meeting room of the Terrebonne Parish Main Library, 151 Library Drive, Houma.

“It’s a chance for senior citizens to meet new people, socialize and have a good time while they exercise,” said Sarah Stewart, circulation clerk and Nintendo Wii presenter. “We also have a golf program if we have any retired golfers out there who would like to set up a session with the library.”

Karen Brunet from the East Houma Branch library said the gaming system can be requested for any Terrebonne Parish Branch library if enough interest is expressed in such a program.

“It’s a new element in the therapeutic world, and we will continue to use it as long as we have patients that are appropriate for its use,” Ledet said. “Our mission is to improve quality of life and maximize a person’s ability to perform daily tasks. We assist patients in developing new skills, relearning lost skills and making adjustments in their everyday lives.”

For information on Thibodaux Regional’s Rehabilitation Services/Programs, call 493-4435 or 493-4782 or visit www.thibodaux.com/rehabilitation.html. A physician’s prescription is needed for outpatient services.

For information on the senior-citizen exercise program at the Terrebonne Parish Main Library, call 876-5861. Registration is not required and the program is free and open to the public.

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