If you think video games are just for teenagers, think again. Nintendo’s Wii™ game system is finding new fans among therapy professionals who recognize its potential as a fun and engaging tool that can help ease the recovery process for their patients. Nowadays, “Wiihabilitation” is used more and more for stroke victims, patients recovering from broken bones or surgery, and even those living with debilitating illnesses such as multiple sclerosis.
A recent study conducted by the Stroke Outcomes Research Unit at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto revealed that after two weeks of playing active video games such as those made for the Wii, stroke victims with weakness in their arms were able to reach out and grab objects more quickly and more easily than before. In contrast, those who played traditional card or block games showed no change in arm strength following the study.
Turning Hard Work into Play
Although physical and occupational therapy are a vital part of the recovery process for many patients, typical stretching and lifting exercises can be tedious, repetitive and sometimes painful. The Wii has changed all that, adding an element of fun and competitiveness to therapy sessions and helping to improve strength, endurance, flexibility and balance with the help of motion-sensitive handheld controllers that encourage patients to move their bodies in a way that is both beneficial and enjoyable.
The Wii Sports game collection, included with the purchase of a Nintendo Wii game console, features five games: tennis, golf, boxing, bowling and baseball—all of which help to increase upper extremity range of motion as well as muscle strength and coordination. Patients must swing, throw, and hit a virtual target using the same arm movements involved in the actual sports, and at the same time they are improving their motor skills and gaining strength.
Wii Fit is also popular in therapeutic settings. It includes a variety of activities such as yoga and aerobic exercises and features a pressure-sensitive “balance board” upon which the player stands to participate in each activity. Patients who have used the Wii as part of their therapy treatment have reported significant success with rehabilitation goals and much faster recovery rates.
Putting Wiihabilitation into Practice
As more facilities begin to recognize the benefits of interactive gaming for therapeutic purposes, Wiihabilitation will no doubt become even more popular in clinical settings. However, it is important to remember that the Wii is not a substitute for quality one-on-one time with a skilled therapist, but rather a tool—just like the assistive and adaptive devices used by therapists—that can be utilized periodically throughout the Plan of Care to help patients achieve their functional goals.
You can learn more about Wiihabilitation, including how to properly and effectively incorporate the Wii game system into your rehabilitation program, in our comprehensive 2-hour course, Wiihabilitation, which examines the use of Wii in therapy and helps to identify safe and appropriate usage for therapy professionals.
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