Lake Hospital System Offers Wii-habilitation

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Physical and occupational therapists at Lake Hospital System are tapping into the latest video gaming craze to get patients back on their feet. They’re using the Nintendo Wii and the just released Wii Fit to help patients recovering from strokes, surgeries and broken bones improve their cardiovascular fitness, aerobic strength and balance through video games like hula hooping, skiing and bowling.

"The Wii complements traditional and functional therapies while engaging patients in their therapy in a fun and entertaining way," said Nancy Ditzel, a physical therapist at Lake Hospital System. "Rehabilitation can be hard, and it’s often painful. Wii takes the focus off that. Patients are having so much fun that they often don’t realize how hard they’re working."

Wii-habilitation is used to move the body in ways similar to traditional therapy exercises. The Nintendo Wii uses a wireless controller that allows players to control their on-screen actions through their real-life movements. Wii Fit is built around Nintendo’s new Balance Board, a rectangular, pressure- sensitive platform about the size of a bathroom scale, which communicates with the Wii console wirelessly. Players step onto the board, which senses their movements, balance and center of gravity. Both systems offer a wide range of games and activities that help patients work on visual and cognitive skills, problem solving, balance, coordination, and upper-and lower-body strength and endurance.

Sherry Siburt has been using Wii Fit every day as part of her physical therapy sessions at LakeEast Hospital.

"To be able to walk and feed myself again, I basically had to start from scratch," said Siburt, who lost the feeling in her entire body after two neck surgeries. "I couldn’t stand by myself when I came in here. Now, I’m standing by myself and playing a game. It’s pretty remarkable."

John Timmons, who is recovering from a stroke, has regained strength and improved his balance using Wii Fit.

"It’ll make you work your muscles but you don’t realize you’re working them because you’re having fun," Timmons said.

While Wii will never replace traditional therapy techniques, like leg lifts, stationary biking and arm stretches, John Baniewicz, M.D., medical director of Lake Hospital System’s Center for Comprehensive Rehabilitation, is impressed by the progress patients have made using the video gaming system.

"Because Wii is goal-oriented and competition-oriented, it motivates patients to step outside of their comfort zone and do things they might be reluctant to do in another setting," he said. "We’re seeing patients at all levels of function, even those confined to wheelchairs, attain improved balance and strength."

Baniewicz said that Wii has also been useful in occupational therapy, which helps patients relearn daily living skills including brushing teeth, combing hair and getting dressed.

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