Senior Citizens Use Video Games for Therapy

The Nintendo Wii is one of the most popular video game systems in recent years. And the popularity has spread to the non-video game generation. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, healthcare providers are using the Wii as physical therapy for senior citizens.

Betty Rinehardt just bowled a strike on the Nintendo Wii that's set up in the common area. Ms. Rinehardt, who is 83, says she used to bowl in a league. This is the first time she's played a video game.

"I think it's wonderful! It sure makes the time go fast. I'm having fun, I love it."

Ms. Rinehardt is just enjoying the game. But her occupational therapist is observing the affects it has on her mind and body. Alicia Lohman is with Memorial Hermann Home Health.

"It allows us to look at their cognition, their vision, their physical -- whether it's endurance, strength, balance, coordination -- all of those aspects are provided by using the Wii and it gives you immediate feedback."

Lohman says they got the Wii a couple weeks ago and it is already popular. Some of her patients have joint problems or are recovering from stroke.

"They've already improved. If we're working on endurance they're so involved in the game that they don't realize they've been standing for five minutes or ten minutes. If we're working on improving shoulder strength or range of motion, it's not another repetition. It's basically 'oh let me get that ball' or 'let me return the swing' or 'let me get to the next frame.' So it really veers from the fact that they're doing exercise."

Using these games for therapy is relatively new here in Houston, mostly because it's difficult to find the game consoles. Around here the practice is called Wii-habilitation.

Ms. Rinehardt is finishing up her game against competitor Kitty Kaul. Ms. Kaul says she's going to get her grandson to come over and teach her the finer points of the Wii.

"Yeah, I'm looking forward to that. Because he would sit there and play video games and I'd think nah. But I'd play this video game with him."

And she hopes his tutoring will give her an edge at the next Wii bowling party.

Laurie Johnson. Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...