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Home / Focus / Senior Living May 2008 / Video games help seniors get physical, mental exercise

Video games help seniors get physical, mental exercise

Rolling bowling balls, clanking pins and an outburst of cheers erupted from a back room at Elderhaus, an adult day care center in Fort Collins, Colo. Seventy-two-year-old Ken Blask had just bowled a strike, and now it was Jack Graf’s turn to take a roll.
Slowly, the 68-year-old walked in front of the lane. He cranked back his arm, took a swing and released the button on a white remote-control unit.
His digital bowling ball rolled down the TV screen, knocking over a few digital pins.
“I would say this is very close” to the real thing, Graf said after his turn.
The group was playing its nearly daily dose of Nintendo Wii, an interactive video game system that uses a wireless “Wiimote” to detect acceleration in three dimensions and allows the player to control the action on the screen.
The seniors and special-needs adults at Elderhaus have been playing the bowling game a few times every week since the center received the console as a Christmas gift.
And they aren’t the only older residents taking on games traditionally played by youngsters. In fact, a growing number of senior centers around Northern Colorado and the nation are plugging in for some Wii time.
“I think it’s more than a little bit of fun,” Graf said with a smile.
Elderhaus has a few of the interactive games, including golf, tennis and baseball — each calling on the player to imitate the movement of the sport, with the Wiimote in hand, to simulate the game on screen. Bowling is the proven favorite.
“I never thought it could be so much fun,” said Graf, who had never played video games before. Now, he wants to get one for his own home so he can play with his wife.
But having fun isn’t the only name of the game — the interactive movements with the remote are a form of indoor exercise and can enhance eye-hand coordination, said Ricky Shorkey, Elderhaus’ activities director.
“They really get a lot of benefits all the way around,” she said.
With most clients suffering from dementia, she said, the game is a repetitive way to help their brain kinetics as well.
“We keep working with them until they get it,” she said.
Loveland’s Lakeview Commons is another senior center adding Wii to its weekly list of activities.
Not just for kids
Deidre Muleski, the assisted living center’s activities director, said she didn’t know what to expect when the home first got Wii after a recommendation.
“I think you get the stereotype: The elderly, they’re not going to want to play the games that we view as for kids,” she said.
But the Wii was a wonderful success, she said.
“They love it; they look forward to it… It’s been truly something I’d never expected I would do with this population.”
Muleski agreed the game is a great form of exercise, adding it can boost self-esteem for seniors, too.
The games are easily accessible for everyone, she said, without people having to leave home. And players can even give their best shot from a chair or wheelchair.
“It doesn’t exclude anyone,” Muleski said. “The Wii really has no limitations.”
The clients at Lakeview Commons have formed teams and compete every week on the TV’s lanes.
“It makes them feel like they belong to something, part of a bowling team. It really gives them a sense of worth,” she said.
Back at Elderhaus, the enthusiasm was evident with each frame.
The players and spectators held their collective breath as they watched the ball roll toward the pins, cheering for everything from strikes to gutter balls.
At the end of the game, Blask had the highest score — 102 — and was awarded a small trophy. He said it wasn’t quite as good as his 220 real-life high score, but still not bad.
Besides, he said, he never imagined he could bowl through the TV.

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