Tech toys may help seniors stave off mental decline

Edith Vuchnich spent the afternoon playing video games with friends and fellow residents. The 93-year-old enjoyed a simulation of 10-pin bowling that enables users such as Vuchnich to avoid the burden of holding an actual ball and save a trip to the bowling alley.

“Oh, yes that was so much fun,” she said. “I threw two (strikes) didn’t I?”
Home instead of Senior Care recently hosted “Keeping it Sharp” at Briton House retirement centre on Mount Pleasant Road.

About 50 residents participated in Nintendo Wii bowling and jeopardy with the help of Nintendo representatives who were on hand.

The purpose of the demonstration, according to coordinator Bruce Mahony from Home instead of Senior Care, is to encourage the elderly to keep an active mind by participating in stimulating activities which could help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, a common form of dementia.

Although dementia is a disease caused by damage of the brain over time, Mahony cited current research which suggests that mental exercise helps to keep the mind sharp.

“We’re here to create some awareness,” Mahony said. “Exercising the mind is just as important as exercising the body. We want to be actively seeking information about how to keep mentally sharp.”

Mark Wells, son of Russell Wells, owner of the family run business at Briton House, can attest to that. He says a good portion of the seniors at the residence have some form of dementia and it’s difficult for staff to help get them through the day.

“We’ll look at anything that can help out our seniors,” he said. “And if this is something that will keep them engaged that’s excellent.”

Wells says he’s not surprised seniors are interested in the latest in entertainment technology, even though they never grew up around it. “There is a group that won’t get into these things, and never will,” he said.

Seniors use internet on a daily basis

“But then there are some that want to be challenged and stimulated. I mean we see a lot of our seniors use the internet on a daily basis.”

The experiment, although striking a chord with residents and staff, did come with its set of glitches. Because Nintendo originally didn’t intend for the Wii to be geared towards an older audience, in regards to menu settings the console isn’t as user friendly as they’d have you believe.

It took several minutes for staff to get the system operating, and there was confusion on how to use the hand-held operated remote once the game started.

Wells ensures that his staff will be on hand on a regular basis to help residents work out initial difficulties in learning how to play, and overall sees potential with the system.

“What happens is that they tend to give up on something if they struggle at first,” Wells said.

“With these games, than say with other video games on the market, a lot of them can pick it up quite easily and so they’re willing to come back and try it again.”

Another issue is cost. The Wii, although considered cheap compared rival consoles, might not be in an affordable investment for seniors budgeting tight pensions.

That won’t be a problem at places like Briton House as they become the fourth senior’s home in Canada to purchase the Wii system. As for Mahony and Home instead of Senior Care, they’re looking at options to incorporate the system when staff go to visit clients.

Filed October 23, 2007, from the Centre for Creative Communications
By Aidan Chafe