Patients of Blue Hill Memorial Hospital’s rehabilitation services department are benefitting from an unconventional tool during their occupational therapy appointments. Therapists have recently begun using the Wii, a home video game console released by Nintendo, to help patients strengthen their sensory perception and make gains in other areas such as flexibility and gait. Introduced in 2007, the Wii Fit™ includes exercise activities and games, including yoga, balance and strength training exercises, and aerobic activities.
“While the Wii is a new therapeutic tool for us, its use in medicine has been documented elsewhere,” says Beth Wagstaff, an occupational therapist at the hospital. “In 2010, the American Heart Association (AHA) endorsed the Wii to encourage sedentary people to take the first step toward fitness.” Wagstaff explains that the system has been used to help patients with a number of conditions, including strokes, cerebral palsy, sports injuries, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cystic fibrosis, and even cancer. While Blue Hill Memorial Hospital has already introduced the Wii into occupational therapy, the tool will be integrated into other disciplines, including speech/language and physical therapies.
“Of course the Wii can also help individuals avoid some health problems in the first place, by encouraging a healthy weight, good coordination, and a sense of balance,” Wagstaff adds. She explains that the system can even help individuals track progress toward their fitness goals, by measuring body mass index and other factors. “Chronic conditions like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease threaten the health of thousands of our friends and neighbors,” says Wagstaff. “We need to find creative ways of helping people remain active throughout the year.”
Emily Stinchfield recently completed a graduate program in occupational therapy at Husson University and is participating in 12 weeks of clinical fieldwork at the hospital’s sites in Blue Hill and Bucksport. She has been an advocate of the Wii, using programs such as bowling, table tennis, and canoeing to help patients. “The Wii is useful for many different age groups,” she says. “I think the balance board will really take off in nursing homes or with seniors at home, whereas some of the other games are perfect for young children who have coordination and sensory issues.”
Wagstaff and Stinchfield work together closely to provide expert and sensitive care to their patients. “My advisor told me that I would love working at Blue Hill Memorial Hospital and she was right,” says Stinchfield. “Beth has been here for me whenever I have questions, and has given me the opportunity to take the lead on projects like the Wii.”