Dr studying the use of the Wii in PWP

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Dr studying the use of the Wii in PWP
Sun, 05-17-2009 - 8:50pm

Wii For Physical Therapy

Linda Johnson punched her patient in the face and laughed as 16-year-old Shanteria Coffee lay stunned before her.

"Ahhh, you cheat," Shanteria groused as she shook her Wii controllers and tried to get her boxer back up in the animated ring on the television.

"We're both on a learning curve," said Mrs. Johnson, an occupational therapist at Walton Rehabilitation Health System, who denied cheating. "She's learning how to use her hands again, and I'm learning how to play the game."

The video game boxing match is more than just fun -- it is helping strengthen Shanteria's hands and regain fine motor skills, Mrs. Johnson said. It is part of a growing trend nationwide to use the popular Wii system, and others like it, in health care.

"There's a whole universe of people out there that are using gaming for health, but it has been a little slower to come into rehabilitation," said Judith Deutsch, the director of the Research in Virtual Environments and Rehabilitation Sciences Lab at the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey.

Ben Herz, an assistant professor and program director of Occupational Therapy at the Medical College of Georgia, said he will speak at the national Games for Health Conference in June in Boston, which focuses on video games in health care.

Dr. Herz has been studying the use of the Wii in Parkinson's disease patients.

"People increased significantly on their balance, their gait, their fine motor (skills)," he said. "And the biggest thing for us was that depression went down."

Even among those who scored very high on depression tests beforehand, "basically, their depression went down to zero after four weeks of playing it three times a week," Dr. Herz said. He attributed some of that to the "exercise effect" of playing the Wii, which can require real exertion during some games.

"They don't really realize what they're doing," Mrs. Johnson said. "They don't really realize it's therapeutic."

Much of what rehabilitation science has focused on is using virtual reality to help simulate activities, and commercial games aren't really designed to simulate that and record patient movements, Dr. Deutsch said. But many clinicians use systems such as a Nintendo Wii because of its relatively low cost, and because patients like it and will do it, she said.

"Motivation is absolutely essential for anyone to get better," Dr. Deutsch said.

A real plus for using the Wii is that while it can simulate sports such as boxing and bowling, it can be adjusted so it can be played sitting down and in a more protected environment, Dr. Herz said. The level of difficulty can be adjusted as strength and balance increase.

One patient who was bed-bound at a nursing home started off Wii bowling in bed, Dr. Herz said.

Eventually, "he got up and now he runs the bowling league at the nursing home," he said.

Shanteria's mother, Tanya Ford, said she has seen improvement in the three weeks since her daughter started the Wii.

"She wasn't able to move anything before," Mrs. Ford said. Shanteria suffers from neuormyelitis optica, a disease that can affect nerves in the eyes and spinal cord. She woke up on her 16th birthday in February completely paralyzed.

"I was more shocked and scared," she said. Slowly, she is making progress, and though she has a Wii game of her own at home in Milledgeville, Ga., she also has another game goal in mind: "Guitar Hero ."

Lauren Sue