How effective is the Nintendo Wii for therapy?


(Katherine Ramirez)

Skyline’s adaptive physical education department is embracing a pilot study that utilizes the Nintendo Wii Fit as a complementary tool used in conjunction with rehabilitation training.

The purpose of this project is to improve the coordination and balance of students who have been impacted by some sort of brain injury, disease or other correlated condition.

The Wii Fit offers students from the adaptive physical education classes a different type of medium in which they are able to test, review and record their fitness goals.

The study is appropriated titled Wii-hab, which is coined after the rehabilitative properties expected of the Nintendo Wii. In terms of assisting students who have been affected by brain injuries, the data will be useful when comparing the value of using the Wii for physical therapy purposes versus training without it.

Skyline biology professor Shari Bookstaff and adaptive physical education professor Chip Chandler have been instrumental in getting the Wii-hab program up and running.

This undertaking is the first-ever pilot study that Skyline’s adaptive PE department has proposed and administered. Despite that fact, Bookstaff and Chandler, who are both volunteering their time, have a well-organized system with a group of volunteer students that make up the control group as well as test subjects.

Bookstaff has composed a specialized class for biology students to work with adaptive PE students to study the potential for the Nintendo Wii Fit to be advantageous for adaptive PE students with brain injuries.

Chandler has had people brought to him that have been confined to a wheelchair for 20 to even 30 years and has been able to get them walking again. He said oftentimes, people who have brain injuries are not given any hope. He empathizes with patients who are recovering from brain injuries and are told by their physician not to look for changes or improvements after six months to a year.

“I have found over the many years that I have been working with adaptive PE students, that there is no end to improvement,” Chandler said.

Chandler is a firm believer in brain plasticity—the brain’s capacity to build neural connections and the ability to relearn aspects of living that normally come as second nature.

“People who have survived any type of brain injury need to relearn automatic movements as if they aren’t automatic,” Chandler said. “It’s harder to learn the basic functions of walking, eating, and dressing than it is for other people that have had any other kind of disease.”

Ten students were recruited from Chandler’s adaptive physical education class to participate in the pilot study. However, the Wii-hab program is not intended to act as a substitute for the students’ regular training sessions. Rather, the program was created to supplement their current exercise regimen.

The sessions are broken down into a total of 23 consultations for each test subject and control subject. Exercises involve a series of balance tests and balance training on a bi-weekly basis. The balance tests consist of four exercises: standing balance, horizontal balance, step test and balance using a dynadisk. The balance training is comprised of three Wii Fit games: ski-jump, table tilt, and soccer. All of the student participants from each group train two times a week, doing three sets of each game.

Testing for the Wii-hab pilot study officially commenced during the first week of February, and will wrap for the semester during the week of May 3.

Chandler foresees the program expanding to have multiple Wii Fit stations for more adaptive physical education students to utilize.

“This is only the beginning,” Chandler said. “We hope to pave the way for other schools.”

One of the volunteers of the Wii-hab program, Jennifer Cressman, believes that the timing in which Bookstaff and Chandler appealed for a grant from the President’s Innovation Fund to buy the Wii Fit was quite fortuitous.

Cressman conveyed how confident she was in the Wii-hab program and in Bookstaff and Chandler’s presence in leading the development of what may eventually become an important program in terms of research and study for the physical education department.

This is Cressman’s third semester as a student of the adaptive PE class taught by Chandler. After being hit by a cab in 1982, Cressman was still seeking help after 26 years of recovery in terms of regaining better comprehensive physical coordination when she came to Skyline’s adaptive PE program.

“The more I learn about my brain, the easier I feel it will be to create new neurological pathways,” Cressman said. “And I’m getting more information about the brain’s ability to recover now than from my doctors when I was in the hospital.”

Cressman plans to continue to volunteer for the Wii-hab study for a long time to come, not only because it is for a cause dear to her, but because it has the potential to affect change for other people with brain injuries as well, simply by using an alternative dimension of therapy.

“I feel that because of this technology, there is hope for people like me,” Cressman said.
The biology students analyzing the data in Bookstaff’s biology class are in their final stretch and will be comparing and analyzing the data in the coming weeks.

Chandler and Bookstaff are anticipating the progression of the Wii-hab program in the coming semesters.

“We know it does help people recovering from brain injuries—we just have to prove it works,” Chandler said. “We’re on the cutting edge here and we feel really good about it.”