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Healing with Wii-hab

Video game system can aid in physical rehabilitation

August 15, 2010
By RODNEY MINOR, The Leader-Herald

AMSTERDAM - Of all the places the Nintendo Wii has made its way into that are unconventional for a video game system, such as libraries and senior centers, physical rehabilitation units may be the most beneficial for the users.

St. Mary's Hospital's physical rehabilitation services recently added two of the video game systems.

One system is used in the acute rehabilitation services department at the Amsterdam Memorial campus. The other system is at the Wilkinson Skilled Nursing Facility and can be shared with outpatient services, a news release from the hospital said.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Rodney Minor

Alexander Robbins, right, a certified occupational therapy assistant at St. Mary’s physical medical rehab, helps Anne Barczak of Amsterdam with her therapy by using the Nintendo?Wii on Thursday at St.?Mary’s Hospital’s campus at Amsterdam Memorial. In the background, to Robbins’ right, the TV screen hooked up to the Wii shows how Barczak is distributing her weight between her right and left leg on the balance board.

"It is another tool we can use [for therapy]" Alexander Robbins, a certified occupational therapy assistant at St. Mary's physical medical rehab, said about the Wii.

The Wii uses a sensor and "Wii-motes" to simulate motions ranging from swinging a tennis racket to throwing a baseball. A sensor in the Wii-mote is picked up by a sensor bar in front of the television and the avatar on the screen moves in coordination with the player's movements.

A common accessory for the Wii is a balance board. The board has two footpads a person can stand on. When the person moves on the pads, the sensor measures the movement.

Since its release in 2006, the Wii has been tested and used by rehabilitation therapists as a supplement to therapies to help patients recovering from a variety of diseases and injuries, the release said. It has been proven to have a positive impact on the progress of Parkinson's disease patients, the release said.

According to a news release from the American Stroke Association, a study presented at the association's International Stroke Conference this year found people recovering from strokes may improve their motor functions by using the Wii.

"The study found the virtual reality gaming system was a safe and feasible strategy to improve motor function after stroke," the release said.

Wii differences

Robbins said while the Wii can be used to help a wide variety of patients, it could be especially helpful for people who have had neurological issues, such as a traumatic brain injury. The system can aid in monitoring and showing a variety of different things, he said.

Memory, planning, positioning, weight shifting, visual perception and auditory responses, which can be required depending on the type of game being used on the Wii, are the focus for physical rehabilitation services, the release said.

"The Wii's use helps develop and improve cardiovascular strength, balance, coordination, and cognitive skills in such a way that the patient does not see it as work," Rosemary McGuire, director of physical rehabilitation services, said in the release.

According to the release, some Wii games can provide therapists with customizable programs that include patient-specific exercises and repetitions.

Robbins, who was instrumental in getting the video-game system at the hospital, said the Wii can help patients see the progress they are making with their physical therapy, rather than just hear a therapist say they are improving.

While the Wii can provide some entertainment for patients, it is meant to be therapeutic, he said.

"We don't sit here and play the Wii [for fun]" Robbins said.

The Wii is just another small part of the therapy program, he said. An appropriate training regimen still has to be created for patients, he said, and that may or may not include the Wii, Robbins said. If someone does not want to use it, or find they do not like using, they don't have to, he said.

At the Memorial Campus on Thursday, Anne Barczak, a city resident, was using the Wii while working on her regimen with Robbins.

With some help from Robbins, Barczak stood on the balance board and tried to keep her weight close to evenly distributed between her right and left leg. As she stood on the board, the TV screen hooked up to the Wii showed how her weight was distributed, changing as she almost imperceptibly moved to adjust her weight.

"It really helps me see how I am doing," she said.

 
 

 

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