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Making Rehabilitation Fun with Wii

By David Seymour, MD, Medical Director, the Rehabilitation Center at Atrium

Rehabilitation and physical therapy are essential elements of recovery for patients with functional disabilities. While it can be a difficult process, the goal is to improve or regain skills that will aid in recovery and improve quality of life. Now, thanks to the Nintendo Wii video game console, it can actually be referred to as fun.

Rehabilitation requires strenuous, repeated movement, and thanks to Wii’s motion-sensing technology, it’s a great therapy tool. It increases physical motor skills, hand-eye coordination, timing, the ability to follow directions, balance, endurance and social skills. It can even add a level of competitiveness that increases participation by patients while they “play” with assistance from their therapist for 30 to 60 minutes at a time.

Thorough assessment by the rehabilitation team will determine if the Wii is appropriate for a patient, but most rehabilitation patients are good candidates. It helps patients recovering from stroke who have visual neglect (they don’t see things on either the left or right of their line of vision) by encouraging them to look to both sides. It helps with range of motion of the extremities, and promotes equal weight bearing on both legs which can also benefit patients recovering from orthopedic injury or surgery. Patients with Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis or recovering from stroke can use the Wii to facilitate balance by reaching for stationary or moving targets while on the balance board. And it aids patients with cognitive or perceptual impairments by incorporating visual and audio feedback. Patients who have seizure precautions or are prone to seizures would not be eligible to use the Wii.

Most patients have had a very positive response to therapy with Wii, even though many of them have never seen or played it before. The games are so entertaining that they don’t realize how much time has passed when “playing,” resulting in longer participation than with traditional therapy sessions. They actually end up enjoying themselves, which distracts them from the reality of the physical therapy and helps them forget about the pain. Then, in turn, their moods improve along with their attitudes toward therapy. Many even ask if they can play the games again soon. When a patient’s balance is sufficient for independent use of the Wii and a family member or friend is available to assist, home use is recommended to continue therapy.

The benefits of the Wii system have indeed been surprising. Patients can build confidence, achieve independence and attain the highest level of functioning possible – and have fun doing it.