Computer games in aged care have a more important role than merely recreational, writes Linda Belardi.
Use of the Nintendo Wii as a therapeutic tool in aged care facilities can have positive effects on the physical and psychological symptoms of its residents.
An evaluation report released by Blue Care collected data on Wii usage from 53 of its community and residential services throughout Queensland and northern NSW.
Previous research had noted the benefits to young disabled populations in educational settings. Now similar conclusions can be applied to aged care residents.
“It is quite a burgeoning area in aged care,” says Dr Helen Higgins, Blue Care business improvement officer (best practice).
The technology, which has been in use in Blue Care facilities since mid-2008, can be used in a graded fashion to enhance general physical functioning and mobility.
“In particular, staff noted that Wii activities offer a novel and pain-distracting method for encouraging upper and lower limb coordination and range of movement,” says Higgins.
As patients are distracted from the pain, they are more likely to persevere for longer periods leading to better treatment outcomes.
The term “Wiihab” is currently a trendy addition to the vernacular used by occupational therapists.
Other physical benefits observed from playing Wii games such as baseball and fishing include improved hand-eye coordination and dexterity, balance and range of motion.
Improvements to self esteem and increased social interaction were also recognised by staff as important psychosocial benefits.
“Wii activities also allow elderly people the opportunity to perform virtual activities that they can no longer manage in reality,” says Higgins.
Such meaningful activity often combines a person’s past and present identity, allowing them to reconnect with their younger self.
One ex-golfer found it thrilling to be able to play Wii golf, a sport he could no longer practice.
Another female patient with severe arthritis saw the ability to play tenpin bowling as regaining some function.
The Blue Care report found the use of the gaming console most effective in low-care, able residents.
“The initial complexity and concept of the Wii can be difficult for the elderly to understand, particularly those with cognitive deficits. Some will master it with repetition, however, others find the activity too challenging,” says Higgins.
Elsewhere, Auburn House, a psychogeriatric facility in Melbourne, has implemented a structured Wii program for its residents who suffer from more serious cognitive and psychological disorders including severe dementia and schizophrenia.
The aim of the program is to reduce problem behaviours such as wandering and aggression through regular use of the Wii. The gaming technology has the capacity to distract and pacify those with challenging or disruptive behaviours, says activities coordinator Danielle Harris.
The physical exertion and stimulation means that residents become less agitated and are able to stay seated longer, even after the initial period of activity.
Positive effects on memory and concentration have also been observed by staff.
Through regular use of the Wii, an Auburn house resident with frontal lobe dementia was able to recall basic information about the Wii’s functioning, such as when and which button to release to play the game.
Blue Care has planned more formal research with the University of Queensland in order to establish guidelines for its appropriate therapeutic use. Use of technology in aged care facilities is the way of the future, says Higgins.
“Other Australians as they age, they will expect technology to be part of their daily activity,” says Higgins.Do you have an idea for a story?
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