"Wiihabilitation": A new method of stroke rehab

Deanne Stein Health Guide March 21, 2008
  • I'm not a gamer, nor do I want to be. I probably couldn't even turn on my son's Playstation 3. But for some reason, the boys in my household love these popular gaming systems. The latest desire is the Nintendo Wii. I looked high and low for one over Christmas, then again in January for my son's birthday. Then, yet again, I searched in March for my husband's birthday. I keep seeing ads for these things, but can never find one. Last month, on our way back from Wichita, Kansas, we hit every Wal-mart we saw, only to be disappointed at each stop. Does the company even make them anymore? According to employees at the stores, they do. They only get a limited amount and the sales clerk told me the systems are gone within 30 minutes to an hour after they are put on the shelves. I didn't realize they were in such high demand. I thought after more than a year, I'd be able to buy one with ease. But the interest of the Wii goes beyond a typical teenager.

     

    Even though my teenage son says it's more for the younger kids, my 40-year-old husband still wants one. (He is a big kid at heart). But from what I've read about it, I think the Wii is a system for all ages and is even making its way into rehabilitation centers. In fact, Nintendo's Wii video game system is quickly becoming known as "Wiihabilitation." It's the latest craze in rehab therapy for patients recovering from strokes, broken bones, surgery, and even some combat injuries. Therapist at Herrin Hospital in southern Illinois bought one (I wonder where they found it) and use it with their rehab patients. Therapists say the Wii games require body movements similar to traditional therapy exercises. But apparently some patients become so mentally involved in the game that they don't even realize how hard they are working.

     

    For those of you who are in the dark ages (like I usually am), the Wii requires some physical activity to play. A player has to get up off the couch and use a wireless controller. The controller directs the actions of the animated athletes (or whatever you're playing) on the screen. The most popular Wii games in rehab are the sports games like baseball, bowling, boxing, golf, and tennis. Therapists say the games are useful in occupational therapy, helping patients to relearn daily living skills including brushing teeth, combing hair and fastening clothes.

     

    Even at Walter Reed Army Medical Center the therapy is catching on. Patients who are injured during combat in Iraq are using it in their rehab. Doctors say the age group here is 19 to 25, a group that's really into playing video games. They think the game playing is purely for entertainment, but the therapists know it's for therapy. At WakeMed Health in Raleigh, North Carolina, patients as young as 9 and as old as 80 are using it in rehab. It helps improve endurance, strength, and coordination. Patients say it really helps to loosen up the body so it can do what it's supposed to do.

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    We don't really need it for rehabilitation, but I'm glad to know my husband and son won't be a couple of couch potatoes when they're playing it (if we are ever lucky enough to find one!)