When the Nintendo Entertainment System premiered in the United States in 1986, the video game console became a must-have for a generation of youngsters eager for something more advanced than Atari's latest offering. Now, 20 years later, a new Nintendo system is wowing another generation. At Sundale Nursing Home in Morgantown, West Virginia, residents are finding recreational and therapeutic opportunities in Nintendo's Wii. “It's given them a way to do some of the things that they've loved to do in the past—such as bowling and golf—but at a level that suits them today,” says Donna Tennant, marketing director at Sundale.
The Wii (pronounced “we”) is unlike previous home video game systems. The user holds a wireless controller and motions as if a character in a game; the video game character then simultaneously duplicates the action. The cutting-edge system caught the attention of Occupational Therapist Jennifer Allen, who told fellow staff members that it could function as a therapy tool. Around the same time she was considering the benefits the Wii could have on residents, one of the video game systems arrived at Sundale—local agency Blaine Turner Advertising coincidentally donated it. The agency had visited Sundale on many occasions and, like Allen, thought the system would entertain residents and help them maintain their mobility.
Allen showed Sundale staff how to play Wii Sports, a five-game package that comes with the system, and she developed therapy sessions incorporating the Wii. “It benefits balancing, arm movement, eye-hand coordination, range of motion, and much more,” Tennant notes. And it does not discriminate based on mobility. “Even people in wheelchairs can play some of the games,” she adds. The system is now part of weekly therapy, and residents can play during activity sessions and when they have free time.
Of the five games—bowling, baseball, tennis, golf, and boxing—comprising Wii Sports, bowling and baseball are the two most popular, with women favoring the former and men the latter. Golf and tennis also have their devotees, but boxing is by far the least popular. Residents enjoy re-creating the motions to play the video games, just as they would if the were at the lanes, in the ring, or on the field, court, or links. To bowl in Wii Sports, for example, the user holds a button down through the backswing and releases it during the delivery. When going through the motions, players—residents and staff alike—sometimes let go of the controller, as one would do with a bowling ball, and it strikes the TV screen. “The TV has sure taken a beating!” Tennant says, laughing. Unlike real bowling pins, however, the TV can take the hit without being knocked down (or broken). And the TV is the only thing in danger when residents are playing.
Residents can play against the system or another resident or staff member (up to four people can play one game). “The residents like to compete with the staff,” Tennant states. “That interaction is also meeting a psychosocial need.” If residents are hesitant to play the Wii, it's not because they don't like a good challenge. “The residents love competition,” she adds. “I didn't realize how competitive some residents are. They look forward to playing, and some have formed teams.” Most residents who sit out at first do so because they've never been exposed to such technology. But once they see others play, the enthusiasm is contagious and they want to give the Wii a try. “This has opened a new avenue for the residents to see that technology is not always a bad thing,” Tennant says. Because of the video game system, technology-savvy residents are now reading the local newspaper online.
Tennant recalls a facility picnic when she was approached by a resident's daughter, who was dumbfounded because her father said he had been playing baseball. The woman said, “Dad keeps talking about playing baseball. Every time I come in, he says, ‘I'm playing baseball. I'm having so much fun, and it brings back so many memories.’” The daughter voiced concern that her father was confused. But Tennant explained that he was not confused, he really was playing baseball. She demonstrated the game to the daughter, who thought it was wonderful. Tennant compares the system to adaptive equipment: “It combines fun, competition, and physical benefits.”
Tennant hopes that community members will see the benefits the Wii has had on residents and, following the lead of Blaine Turner Advertising, donate Wii games to Sundale and the residents. “Occupational Therapy feels this can be a benefit for stoke victims and cardiac patients, as well as for many others who are debilitated because of a lack of mobility in their homes or from hospital stays,” she notes. “Our medical director is pleased to see the program integrated into the residents' daily lives.”
As video game developers continue to churn out new games, residents will have more chances to engage in diverse mobility exercises, connect with technology, and even boast about their ability around the facility. “Seeing the residents move with the Wii is a blessing,” Tennant says. “What a creation to get the residents who enjoy bowling, baseball, and other sports involved in active participation.”