I’m feeling a bit dishonest about something. Well, maybe that’s too strong a word. Let’s say disingenuous. Careful readers will have noticed that I’ve been engaging in a little linguistic sleight-of-hand with respect to games and health. I’ve argued that videogames can help treat a variety of physical and mental issues, and then gone on to talk about how people are adapting existing technology and developing new games to meet a specific health need. And there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s part of what makes videogames such a powerful tool.

“But wait,” you say. “These aren’t real videogames. They’re just training tools. Regular people can’t go out and buy them. How can a standard, run-of-the-mill Xbox or Wii game—you know, a real videogame—make people better? What do they have to offer? Where’s the evidence? Wait. Have you been lying to me all this time?”

Okay, okay, take a deep breath and sit down for a second. First of all, I have mentioned some real games in earlier posts, but… okay, mea culpa. You got me. Keep reading, though, ‘cause this is for you.

Playing the Wii can help you recover from a stroke. And I don’t mean some custom-built, made-for-rehab game here. I’m talking about the standard Wii Sports that anyone can go out and buy for 30-40 dollars (less if you’re a smart shopper). How do I know? Because videogame designer and overall genius Kent Quirk—who happens to be a friend of mine—actually did it. Regular sessions playing Wii Tennis and Wii Bowling were part of his post-stroke rehab. Kent summed it up this way:

Being able to stand up for 10 minutes and play a game of Wii Tennis was a real victory for me. And I certainly wasn’t going to go out on a tennis court and play real tennis at that point. So that was motivating and helpful to me.”

Motivating and helpful. Now contrast that with standard physical therapy. PT—or pain and torture, as it’s affectionately known by many who’ve gone through it—is painful, repetitive and downright boring. The problem is, it’s also necessary. So how can you take a treatment modality that’s vital for recovery and make it, well, fun?

Make a game out of it. Dr. Gustavo Saposnik, a neurologist and director of the Stroke Outcomes Research Unit at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, has been studying clinics and hospitals that do just that. Here’s what he found:

Basically, we found that patients in the Wii group achieved a better motor function, both fine and gross, manifested by improvement in speed and grip strength.”

The Wii’s not just for stroke rehab, either. It can be used to help people recover from things like broken bones, surgery, and even combat injuries. Why? Like traditional PT, the Wii uses the same principles of performing repetitive, high-intensity tasks that help repair damage. The difference is that the Wii makes it fun. Says James Osborn, who oversees rehab services at southern Illinois’ Herrin Hospital,

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

At WakeMed Health’s facility in Raleigh, NC, patients from nine to 89 play Wii games to improve strength, endurance and coordination. According to Bill Perry, a retired police officer and WakeMed patient who used the Wii to help recover from a stroke,

It really helps the body to loosen up so it can do what it’s supposed to do.”

Doctors and therapists at Walter Reed Army Medical Center agree. They find that Wii therapy works very well for patients injured during combat operations in Iraq. Here’s Lt. Col. Stephanie Daugherty, Walter Reed’s chief of occupational therapy:

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

And what happens when you turn therapy into entertainment? Patients are more motivated to do it, they stick with it longer, and they get better faster. It remains to be seen whether active videogame systems like the Wii, Playstation Move or Xbox Kinect will ever replace traditional PT. But this much is undeniable: they sure as hell make it more fun.

To read more on how doctors use the Wii for therapy, check out this link.

For an overall summary of how the Wii is used for PT, click here.

You can see some videos of the Wii in action here.

For more info on stroke rehab and the Wii, click here

… and here.

And for an ABC news story on how senoirs use the Wii for rehab, click here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s