Rehabilitation Centers Plug into Video Games

Article excerpt

After suffering multiple strokes, Robert B. Garlow Jr. arrived at Oak Hill Nursing & Rehabilitation Center for intensive therapy to sharpen motor skills and eye-hand coordination on his severely weakened right side.

The same day, the Hempfield facility received the hot commodity in rehabilitative care -- a Nintendo Wii interactive video game console.

Garlow has happily taken part in what people are calling "Wiihab."

"The Wii system is an excellent, affordable way of simulating activity that rehab providers can provide, particularly to geriatric patients," said Gregg Altobella, president of the National Association of Rehabilitation Providers and Agencies, based in Tampa, Fla. "Its popularity is growing rapidly."

Garlow moves in time with simulated characters on a 42-inch Vizio plasma television during virtual games of golf, bowling, tennis and baseball in a sports game that came with a $250 Wii package. The facility plans to use "Wii Fit," an aerobic-themed game.

"It's fun," said Garlow, 61, of Latrobe. "I know my grandchildren use it. Wii seems like a good tool to use in therapy."

That view is shared by Extendicare in Milwaukee and its subsidiary, ProStep Rehabilitation Services, which oversees Oak Hill, one of its 23 centers in Pennsylvania, and 191 facilities in 11 other states.

"We're just beginning to access this particular technology. It's very exciting," said Colleen Keller, ProStep's Western Pennsylvania regional director of rehabilitation.

Keller said the firm will use virtual games to sharpen patients' skills during short-term rehabilitation and to improve the quality of life for long-term residents.

At a recent conference in Washington, representatives from 70 rehab centers nationwide -- employing roughly 15,000 therapists -- were buzzing about patients' response to Wiihab, Altobella said.

"This technology wasn't talked about at previous conventions; people are really gravitating to this," Altobella said. …