December 17, 2008
The Wii video game has proven a popular way for young and old to get a mild workout and enjoy some time with friends and family. It may also be a useful aid for people with Alzheimer's as well.
The Wii, made by Nintendo, is different than most video games because it uses a motion-sensitive tracking device that requires users to swing a baseball bat or roll a bowling ball. So rather than being sedentary, players get a moderate amount of exercise as they simulate playing actual sports like baseball, tennis and golf. The level of play can also be adjusted to accommodate the abilities of users.
"The Wii has become a really new and unique thing for seniors to get involved with, and it is really because of the simplicity of use," said Chris Brockington of the Lifecare Group, a group of retirement centers in Canada. "It's hand-eye coordination, visual stimulation and works as various forms of therapy. If they are in their wheelchair, it gets them excited, gets them enthralled into something that maybe they didn't do before. They are not just sitting there watching something; they are actually engaged."
A recent study from the U.K. suggested the a typical person in a care home suffering with dementia could spend as little as two minutes a day interacting with other residents.
"There's some worth in looking at Nintendo Wiis and other activities that give people a sense of purpose and joy in the day," a spokesperson for the U.K. Alzheimer's Society told the BBC. "If you are giving people something to do it really increases their sense of value." The games have been employed at various senior care centers there, and the government is expanding the program to others.
At the Silverado Senior Living Center in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., which provides assisted living for those with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, Wii baseball, golf, bowling and tennis have proven popular among residents.
Administrator Carole Shaw brought the game to the center after reading about how seniors were using it as a popular form of physical and mental exercise. "I hadn't heard of it being played by people with Alzheimer's Disease, but I didn't see any reason that our residents wouldn't be able to use it," she said. "Our philosophy at Silverado is to always look at what people with memory impairment can do, rather than what they can't do, and I thought this would be exciting."
"What our residents are doing with the Wii is a wonderful example of how much capacity and ability people with memory impairment have," Ms. Shaw said. "It's so important for the world to understand this and to help each person with memory disorder live to his or her full potential."
The Wii games also provide regular and moderate physical exercise, which studies show may be beneficial for the brains of those with Alzheimer's. [See the story, "Exercise May Benefit the Brain in Early Alzheimer's Disease"] "People with early Alzheimer's disease may be able to preserve their brain function for a longer period of time by exercising regularly and potentially reducing the amount of volume lost," said Dr. Jeffrey M. Burns, an Alzheimer's researcher at the University of Kansas.
The video games are just one of various activities that have been shown to be beneficial for people with Alzheimer's, or those wishing to ward off the disease. Among those activities are pet therapy, in which specially trained cats, dogs, rabbits and other pets are brought into senior centers; music therapy; cooking; and gardening sessions.
Studies show that even a short-term visit form a therapy-pet can ease agitation in people with Alzheimer's, particularly during the "sundown"period in late afternoon when many patients become confused. Therapy pets, music groups and other activities also promote interaction among people with Alzheimer's. [See the stories, "Therapy Pets Prove Soothing to People With Alzheimer's" and "Play a Song, or Sing Along, for Alzheimer's"]