Patients use Wii for physical therapy

HOUSTON The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) has incorporated the Nintendo Wii into its traditional physical rehabilitation program. This new tactic helps in masking the often painful and tedious rehabilitation process and increases a patient's motivation and enthusiasm to continue therapy.

The Wii is a popular video game used by kids and adults of all ages to play a variety of sporting events. The most distinguishing feature of the system is its wireless controller, the Wii Remote, which can be used as a handheld pointing device and can detect movements in three dimensions. This design allows players to control the game using physical gestures in addition to the standard button presses. During a game, the remote control becomes a baseball bat, a golf club, and even boxing gloves.

The primary goal of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the MEDVAMC is to help patients regain physical, psychological, and social functioning. This includes recovering skills as well as learning new strategies to accomplish everyday tasks. Rehabilitation Care Line staff work with each patient and his or her family to develop individual treatment programs that will maximize each patient's potential and enable the veteran to achieve the highest level of independence possible. The Wii video game is another tool for health care providers to use for patient treatment and recovery.

The Wii system is distinct among video games because it deviates from the typical system where you sit, press buttons, and look at the screen. With this technology, patients play by moving multiple body parts and muscles. Repetition builds strength and endurance and improves concentration and coordination.

"The video game makes rehabilitation more effective, motivating, and fun for patients," said Stacy Flynn, PT, MEDVAMC physical therapist. "Patients actually forget they are in rehabilitation."

Patients of all ages, who enjoyed bowling, golfing, pool, or boxing before their injury, are excited about the opportunity to play again. They also are able to share the experience with fellow veterans, promoting camaraderie and friendly competition. The video game has proven useful for patients with a variety of functional limitations, such as persons with amputations who need to improve strength and balance skills in their remaining limbs.

"This video game system is a very useful tool for the VA rehab department," said U.S. Army veteran Robert Engelbrecht, who was wounded in Iraq by an improved explosive device. "For me, it makes me work my back muscles and improve standing and balancing on my prosthesis."

"Patients have responded positively to this new system because it's exciting; they are moving, exercising, and engaging in the game," said Flynn. "They inevitably want to do better on the games. In-turn, they work harder and harder to improve their physical bodies. Patients using the game are more excited to continue therapy."

The Nintendo Wii video game system was recently donated to the MEDVAMC. The rehabilitation staff plan to add skateboarding and snowboarding games to the system in the future; both sports are ideal for improving balancing and coordination.

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