Drop into the occupational therapy department at Parkwood Hospital, and you may think the patients and residents you see playing Nintendo Wii are just having fun. They are. But this is serious fun that supplements formal structured therapy exercises with exhilarating games.“One of the biggest challenges with rehab is motivating patients to participate in exercises,” says occupational therapy and physiotherapy assistant Dennis Argoso. “With Wii, patients focus on the game and therapists focus on the patients’ movements.” He adds Wii has no age limit and with a little ingenuity most patients can play the game. It helps to facilitate movement patients already have, and works on endurance because patients aren’t counting repetitions but rather focusing on the task at hand. “We’ve had some remarkable success with Wii,” says Dennis. “A patient in a wheelchair who had leg movement wasn’t sure if he could use the Wii balance board, but as soon as we had him move forward in his chair and put his feet on the board he could play all the balance games. He did quite well and surprised us, but more importantly himself, with his score.” Playing Wii creates camaraderie among patients and helps them improve in areas such as range of motion, coordination, endurance and balance. Nintendo is continually enhancing the games with features like automatic settings for pushing buttons when patients, such as those with quadriplegia, have limited or no finger movement. “Playing Wii is far more interesting than typical day-to-day therapy,” says rehab patient Michael Townsend. Calvin Edgar agrees, saying, “It’s a good workout and fun to play against other patients.” With Wii patients can swing a virtual golf club, or knock out an opponent in a virtual boxing match—all in the name of therapy. Dennis emphasizes Wii supplements but does not replace traditional physiotherapy or occupational therapy. He cautions against playing too often or too strenuously as Wii doesn’t offer the resistance found when playing actual sports such as the impact on the arms when a tennis ball is hit. To help make Wii simulate resistance, weights can be strapped to wrists or legs.
Dennis is spreading the word about the therapeutic value of Wii. He collaborated on a five minute video about using Wii for rehab which he uses for presentations throughout Ontario.Playing Wii is so much more than fun. In the hands of skilled therapists it is a valuable tool that engages patients in therapy and contributes to their recovery. For more information about Misericordia Health Centre, visit www.misericordia.mb.ca.