Seniors strike it healthy with virtual bowling

Friday is bowling night at the Millennium Trail Manor retirement home, when up to 20 residents gather for some friendly competition on the lanes.

“It’s fun, it’s very challenging,” says 79-year-old Helen Bradnam, who only misses bowling when she has other Friday night plans.

They’re going to try boxing next.

There’s no risk of bruised knuckles or broken noses, though, because the residents play the sports on the Wii, Nintendo’s motion-sensitive video game system. The Niagara Falls long-term care facility is one of a small but growing number of Canadian seniors’ programs using video games to keep bodies and minds nimble.

They’re supported by a growing body of research that endorses a “use it or lose it” notion of aging.
“We are all about stimulation, so we try to encourage not only physical stimulation but cognitive stimulation. Video games are just another great way to encourage that,” says Jeanie Burke, managing director of the Halifax office of Home Instead Senior Care.

The company assists with daily living tasks through offices across Canada, and includes video games alongside Bridge tournaments and crossword puzzles on its list of recommended activities.
A recent survey from PopCap Games, which makes “casual” games for a general audience, showed that almost half of players are over the age of 50 and one in five (19 per cent) are over 60. A large number play the games with their children or grandchildren and see it as a great way to bond.
Even for neophytes, the Wii is an easy choice. Players simply hold a motion-sensitive controller and move their bodies like they would while bowling, playing baseball or boxing in the real world.

Doreen Mayer-Korten, the recreation planner who started the Wii craze at Millennium Trail Manor when she brought in her family’s system, says even residents in wheelchairs expand their range of motion and get a gentle workout while playing.

“I always say you can teach an old dog a new trick,” she says. “They’re very open to it and they really enjoy it.”

Nintendo has also released two version of Brain Age, a collection of puzzle games that promise a “mental workout.” Players earn a “brain age” number the first time they play and then try to improve it and exercise their minds into a more youthful state.

Dr. Sharon Cohen has incorporated Brain Age into treatment programs for patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia at the Toronto Memory Clinic. The games really do offer mental callisthenics, she says.

“In the face of aging and the prospect of us losing mental power, it’s not all downhill,” she says. “There’s lots of fun to be had and it’s very reassuring to know that at whatever age we can improve cognitive function and have fun doing it.”

Video games provide moments of fun and excitement even for those living with dementia and memory-loss, says Alistair Hicks, franchise owner of the Greater Victoria office of Home Instead. A caregiver recently took a client with early onset dementia to an arcade, he says, where they “had a ball” playing air hockey, shooting at aliens and driving race cars.

Moments after walking out of the arcade, the client was still beaming about the experience, even though the memory of what they’d done had already vanished.

“The important thing is being in the moment, enjoying the moment, because for people with Alzheimer’s, that’s it,” says Hicks. “They’re much more in the moment than all of us who are out there in the working world.”

CanWest News Service
Sat 13 Oct 2007
Byline: Shannon Proudfoot
Source: CanWest News Service