In 2006, the Nintendo Wii was introduced and immediately gained worldwide popularity among young people. Wii players loved the game simulations but soon learned how to cheat the system – finding that a flick of the wrist was as good as a full swing in hitting a home run in baseball, or faking perfect balance on the balance beam by using hands instead of feet on the game platform.
But while kids at home can game the system, kids under the watchful eyes of nurses and therapists can’t. Because of that, the Wii is being adopted by hospitals to get young patients up and moving and to offer a fun way to do physical therapy.
One person benefiting from “Wii-hab” is Christina Rotering, 15, of Grovertown, in northern Indiana. A patient at Riley Hospital for Children, Christina was diagnosed with lymphoblastic lymphoma in May 2007 and went into remission three months later. Her cancer returned last August, this time in her spine, and she is now in a second remission.
Two years of treatment have left Christina very weak. “I can’t really walk out of the room, and I can’t really move anywhere ’cause I’m really kind of limited to this half of the room without a nurse’s help,” she said.
Christina is prone to blood clots and has had a stroke, so she receives physical therapy to keep her body moving and blood circulating. She has a Wii in her room to give her something to do and to build up her strength because she’s been hospitalized for so long.
“I really don’t have anything really wrong with me,” said Christina. “The Wii kind of helps my arms move around. We do stretches and like jumping jacks just to keep my body moving.” Shari Rohyans, a physical therapist at Riley, says the hospital is using the Wii for a variety of conditions.
“We might start out with some stretching, exercising to get started. And then, the type of patient determines what game we decide to play,” she said.
For example, she said a patient with cystic fibrosis might do yoga-type exercises on the Wii. A patient who needs to build up endurance might do boxing on the Wii Sport.
“The hula hoop is great for endurance as well, just getting them to breathe harder and move their body and get that mobility,” she said.
Riley started using the Wii for physical therapy after some game systems were donated to the hospital. The systems are not used as a primary source of therapy but as a reward at the end of the week.
“It was a great opportunity to get kids up and moving in a different way than just doing regular exercise, and something to kind of distract them from the normal things going on to make it fun and interesting,” Rohyans said.
While most critics point out that Wii use rarely results in a good cardiovascular workout (a study by the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences in Liverpool, England, reports that Wii users usually burn just 60 more calories an hour than those who play Xbox 360), Rohyans said calories are less important than the mindset it gives young patients.
“The mental aspect of being up and moving is more important than just sitting down and being idle and just using your hands,” she said. “Especially, some of these kids who are stuck in bed for so long because of being sick, it helps them to get out of bed. There’s such a mental component of ‘I am up out of bed and I’m playing baseball,’ or ‘I’m doing the carnival games.’”
Christina agrees that the Wii is a lot more fun than regular exercises. “Doing regular boring therapy is not fun at all,” she said.
There is one drawback to the Wii, though. “In a way I kind of dislike it because I’m not really doing it in real life, like I would like to be,” she said.
ASSISTANT EDITORS: David Glass, 18; Grace Kura, 16.
REPORTER: Haley Weiss, 13
Copyright 2009 Y-Press