Dr. Mario to the res­cue?

Doc­tors use Wii games for re­hab ther­apy

The Covington News - - Health & wellness - By Lind­sey Tan­ner

CHICAGO — Some call “Wi­iha­bil­i­ta­tion.”

Nin­tendo’s Wii video game sys­tem, whose pop­u­lar­ity al­ready ex­tends be­yond the teen gam­ing set, is fast be­com­ing a craze in re­hab ther­apy for pa­tients re­cov­er­ing from strokes, bro­ken bones, surgery and even com­bat in­juries.

The usual stretch­ing and lift­ing ex­er­cises that help the sick or in­jured re­gain strength can be painful, repet­i­tive and down­right bor­ing.

In fact, many pa­tients say PT — phys­i­cal ther­apy’s nick­name — re­ally stands for “pain and tor­ture,” said James Os­born, who over­sees re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion ser­vices at Her­rin Hospi­tal in south­ern Illi­nois.

Us­ing the game con­sole’s unique, mo­tion-sen­si­tive con­troller, Wii games re­quire body move­ments sim­i­lar to tra­di­tional ther­apy ex­er­cises. But pa­tients be­come so en­grossed men­tally they’re al­most obliv­i­ous to the rigor, Os­born said.

“In the Wii sys­tem, be­cause it’s kind of a game for­mat, it does cre­ate this kind of in­ner com­pet­i­tive­ness. Even though you may be box­ing or play­ing ten­nis against some fig­ure on the screen, it’s amaz­ing how many of our pa­tients want to beat their op­po­nent,” said Os­born of South­ern Illi­nois Health­care, which in­cludes the hospi­tal in Her­rin. The hospi­tal, about 100 miles south­east of St. Louis, bought a Wii sys­tem for re­hab pa­tients late last year.

“When peo­ple can re­fo­cus their at­ten­tion from the te­dious­ness of the phys­i­cal task, of­ten­times they do much bet­ter,” Os­born said.

Nin­tendo Co. doesn’t mar­ket Wii’s po­ten­tial use in phys­i­cal ther­apy, but com­pany rep­re­sen­ta­tive Anka Dolecki said, “We are happy to see that peo­ple are find­ing added ben­e­fit in re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.”

The most pop­u­lar Wii games in re­hab in­volve sports — base­ball, bowl­ing, box­ing, golf and ten­nis. Us­ing the same arm swings re­quired by those sports, play­ers wave a wire­less con­troller that di­rects the ac­tions of an­i­mated ath­letes on the screen.

The Hines Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Hospi­tal west of Chicago re­cently bought a Wii sys­tem for its spinal cord in­jury unit.

Pfc. Matthew Turpen, 22, par­a­lyzed from the chest down in a car ac­ci­dent last year while sta­tioned in Ger­many, plays Wii golf and bowl­ing from his wheel­chair at Hines. The Des Moines, Iowa, na­tive says the games help beat the monotony of re­hab and seem to be do­ing his body good, too.

“A lot of guys don’t have full fin­ger func­tion so it def­i­nitely helps be­ing able to work on us­ing your fin­gers more and fig­ur­ing out dif­fer­ent ways to use your hands” and arms, Turpen said.

At Wal­ter Reed Army Med­i­cal Cen­ter, the ther­apy is well-suited to pa­tients in­jured dur­ing com­bat in Iraq, who tend to be in the 19 to 25 age range — a group that’s “very into” play­ing video games, said Lt. Col. Stephanie Daugh­erty, Wal­ter Reed’s chief of oc­cu­pa­tional ther­apy.

“They think it’s for en­ter­tain­ment, but we know it’s for ther­apy,” she said.

It’s use­ful in oc­cu­pa­tional ther­apy, which helps pa­tients re­learn daily liv­ing skills in­clud­ing brush­ing teeth, comb­ing hair and fas­ten­ing clothes, Daugh­erty said.

WakeMed Health has been us­ing Wii games at its Raleigh, N.C., hospi­tal for pa­tients as young as 9 “all the way up to peo­ple in their 80s,” said ther­a­pist El­iz­a­beth Penny.

“They’re get­ting im­proved en­durance, strength, co­or­di­na­tion. I think it’s very en­ter­tain­ing for them,” Penny said.

“It re­ally helps the body to loosen up so it can do what it’s sup­posed to do,” said Billy Perry, 64, a re­tired Raleigh po­lice of­fi­cer. He re­ceived Wii ther­apy at WakeMed af­ter suf­fer­ing a stroke on Christ­mas Eve.

Perry said he’d seen his grand-

it chil­dren play Wii games and was ex­cited when a hospi­tal ther­a­pist sug­gested he try it.

He said Wii ten­nis and box­ing helped him re­gain strength and feel­ing in his left arm.

“It’s en­joy­able. I know I’m go­ing to par­tic­i­pate with my grand­kids more when I go visit them,” Perry said.

While there’s plenty of anec­do­tal ev­i­dence that Wii games help in re­hab, re­searcher Lars Odds­son wants to put the games to a real test.

Odds­son is di­rec­tor of the Sis­ter Kenny Re­search Cen­ter at Ab­bott North­west­ern Hospi­tal in Min­neapo­lis. The cen­ter bought a Wii sys­tem last sum­mer and is work­ing with the Univer­sity of Min­nesota to de­sign a study that will mea­sure pa­tients’ func­tion “be­fore and af­ter this ‘Wi­ihab,’ as some­one called it,” Odds­son said.

“You can cer­tainly make a case that some form of en­durance re­lated to strength and flex­i­bil­ity and bal­ance and car­dio would be chal­lenged when you play the Wii,” but hard sci­en­tific proof is needed to prove it, Odds­son said.

Dr. Julio Bo­nis of Madrid says he has proof that play­ing Wii games can have phys­i­cal ef­fects of an­other kind.

Bo­nis calls it acute “Wi­i­itis” — a con­di­tion he says he de­vel­oped last year af­ter spend­ing sev­eral hours play­ing the Wii ten­nis game.

Bo­nis de­scribed his ail­ment in a let­ter to the New Eng­land Jour­nal of Medicine — in­tense pain in his right shoul­der that a col­league di­ag­nosed as acute ten­donitis, a not un­com­mon af­flic­tion among play­ers of real-life ten­nis.

Bo­nis said he re­cov­ered af­ter a week of ibupro­fen and no Wii, and urged doc­tors to be aware of Wii overuse.

As a Wii fan, he said in an email that he could imag­ine more mod­er­ate use would be help­ful in phys­i­cal ther­apy “be­cause of the mo­ti­va­tion that the game can pro­vide to the pa­tient.”

Nin­tendo

Car­toon hero: There may be more to video game char­ac­ter Dr. Mario than ev­ery­one thought, thanks to

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