By Connie Cissell
Bowling, baseball, fishing and golf may not come to anyone’s mind when thinking about rehabilitative care for people suffering from brain injuries, but that is exactly what happens at St. Camillus Health and Rehabilitation Center near Bishop Ludden Jr./Sr. High School on the west side of Syracuse. Since last fall, patients have been using Wii game technology to improve hand-eye coordination, balance and endurance. And, maybe even more importantly, they have had a great time while improving necessary life skills.
The very same Wii consoles that had parents waiting in lines in the middle of the night at Christmastime are now being used in nursing homes, training settings and more enterprising areas. Launched in the U.S. in November 2006, the Wii has quickly become the most popular interactive gaming system. Even its name invokes a spirit of comraderie and fun; it sounds like “we” which means folks can get together and play and the two small “i”s bring to mind two people standing side-by-side. The marketing ideas were not lost on the company executives at Nintendo who manage to impact young people across the world with their ever-increasing gaming options. This time, though, critics who usually lament time spent with video games have to admit that the Wii is bringing people together.
The interactive nature and realistic graphics go a long way in providing an inviting and fun way for people who are suffering to relax and try their hand at the games.
Annette Havens, a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) at St. Camillus, has watched brain injury patients who ordinarily do not attempt to socialize challenge each other in a game virtual golf.
“The Wii movement copies that of the sport and if the sport is something they are interested in, they really seem to enjoy doing it,” Havens said. “Even if they’re just watching, they enjoy it. It brings people together.”
The space reserved for playing the Wii at St. Camillus is packed when it’s game time, Havens said. “They’re hooked,” she said. “And it’s a therapy modality that they’re not always aware of. They may not even know what I’m looking for while they’re playing.”
What Havens is watching for is range of motion, coordination, balance of the affected side and the social and mental piece of the rehabilitation puzzle as well. Someone who can no longer hold an eight-pound bowling ball can simulate the movement of bowling by just holding onto the wireless remote.
Although the majority of Havens’ patients will eventually leave St. Camillus, Mary Ellen Steele, CTRS, director of St. Camillus’ recreation services, has patients who are more likely to call St. Camillus “home.” She sees great benefits in the Wii system with her residential patients.
Residents at St. Camillus may have been avid golfers, baseball fans, fishermen or overall sports enthusiasts. The Wii allows them an opportunity to reconnect with those lost skills. One resident is 105 years old, Steele said, and she loves playing the Wii system.
“It encourages them to use their memory,” Steele said. “It’s challenging and something fun for them to do. It can break the ice.”
Staff at St. Camillus utilize a team approach with patients and they are finding the Wii crosses therapies nicely. Occupational, physical and speech therapy can all benefit from the outcomes of playing Wii. “There is a carry over with their therapeutic goals,” Havens said. “Working in therapy will also impact areas of their lives which are more social and recreational.”
Steele said she is always looking for new and different things to keep residents excited about recreation. She said residents even participated in a tournament allowing them to connect with each other. “The fact that it was a competition made it exciting for them,” Steele said. “And it gave them a feeling of accomplishment.”
Patients and residents who have been through the gamut of physical and emotional trauma are now exhibiting a new sense of playfulness. This can extend to their families and friends as well. Many of them have children and grandchildren who are more than willing to discuss their latest game on the Wii system.
Fifth graders from Bishop’s Academy at Holy Family visited St. Camillus recently and tried out the Wii system. The game crosses generations and gives both younger and older players a level playing field.
One patient at St. Camillus is now able to beat Havens at a game of baseball on the Wii system. After a recent attempt at a few innings of virtual baseball, the patient said, “Yes, I’m definitely getting one of these when I go home.”
Havens and St. Camillus Director of Rehabilitation Services Jerry Reap will both be presenting at the 26th Annual Conference of the Brain Injury Association of New York State in Albany in June. They will be talking about the benefits of using the Wii system in the rehabilitative setting. For more information about St. Camillus Health and Rehabilitation Center, call (315) 488-2951.