28 July 2009

Wii makes therapy more fun

Sunday July 26, 2009, 12:00 AM

Vince Cassaro
Lori Rice of HealthSouth helps Army Maj. Neal Stasny, 43, of Lebanon, work out with a Wii at the rehabilitation center in Wormleysburg. Stasny, who is the deputy chief of staff of information management at Fort Indiantown Gap, is recovering from a stroke. Miriam Dreibelbis had suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for many years. Knee surgery exacerbated the pain in her back, and the West Shore resident ended up in a wheelchair.

Seeking help at HealthSouth Hospitals and Outpatient Centers of Mechanicsburg, Dreibelbis found partial relief in "child's play."

HealthSouth is one of a growing number of outpatient and inpatient facilities that are incorporating Wiihabilitation into their physical therapy and rehabilitation regiments.

Wii (pronounced "wee") is an interactive Nintendo computer game that requires participants to move. A wireless remote connects the player to an on-screen digital icon, which mimics his or her movement in various sports and exercises.

Traditional games available on the Wii Sport software include bowling, tennis and golf. Another game attachment is the balance pad that goes with the Wii Fit software. Players stand on this pad to accomplish such things as walking a tightrope.

"Wii is part of a coordinated approach of physical, occupational and speech therapy at our outpatient facilities," says Laureen Martinelli, site coordinator for the HealthSouth center in Wormleysburg. "It has therapeutic benefits beyond 'straight' exercise. When patients come for outpatient therapy, they've already been through maybe months of conventional therapy. We need different tools to engage the brain, to use new muscles. The graphics of Wii are amazing."

The individuals who come for outpatient rehabilitation and physical therapy at the site include amputees and patients with brain injuries, strokes, Parkinson's disease and spinal cord injuries.

The Lebanon VA Medical Center has had Wii software for two years.

"Initially we introduced it to the long-term care, nursing units," says Jennifer Coy, supervisor of rehabilitation therapies at the VA. "Then we bought it for the rest of the units, including the physical therapy and acute behavioral health units."

According to Coy, Wii "has gone over very well" and brings a lot of benefits, especially for long-term care patients. "It's given them a sense of camaraderie and satisfies their need for competition," she says. "Many of the patients are games- and sports-oriented, especially as our demographic has gotten younger. Wii uses something current that's known to them."

Among the other benefits are that Wii can improve perception, balance and range of motion, the latter especially for physical therapy patients. It also enhances attention span.

One of the other advantages the VA has discovered, says Coy, is that Wii helps fight depression, even if the patient comes just to watch rather than actually participate.

"Wii Sport improves hand-eye coordination and gives the patient a little cardio workout," Martinelli says. "Wii Fit will indicate your body mass index."

For Dreibelbis, Wii was not only effective but "fun."

"It's a nice thing to do," she says. "Wii helps alleviate the tedium of physical therapy exercises and gives patients a sense of progress. Wii worked on my balance, which has always been a problem for me."

Dreibelbis also praised the psychological impact. "I realized I had more capabilities than I thought. It makes you forget about your inabilities," she says.

Like the VA, HealthSouth has found socialization an important part of Wii's appeal and effectiveness.

"It's true Wii means people watching a TV screen, but at least they're moving, and it's interactive," Martinelli says. "It's another tool to add to the therapists' bag of tricks."

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