Facility's Clients Improve With WKU's Wii-Hab Therapy

For Mark Effinger, the Nintendo Wii is more than a gaming system.  The Wii is a rehabilitation tool that is helping him regain mobility and memory skills he lost in a traffic accident nearly three decades ago. 

“I’ve spent a lot of years trying to get back what I lost,” said Effinger, a client at 21st Century Living Services in Gallatin, Tenn.  “This Wii therapy gives you reflexes you don’t know you’ve got. It’s easy to give up, but I want to be a guy who never gives up.” 

In mid-2008, Effinger and six other clients at the facility began the Wii-hab study established by Western Kentucky University’s Bruce Battles, assistant professor in Special Instructional Programs. 

“I’ve been very surprised and very proud of the results we found,” Battles said of the six-month research project funded by the U.S. Department of Education. 

The Wii gaming system is being used in retirement homes and nursing facilities, but Battles wanted to obtain statistical proof that the Wii could improve the quality of life, especially for those suffering from traumatic brain injuries. 

In the study at the Gallatin facility, Battles was looking for improvements in range of motion, memory and socialization.  Six of the seven clients showed an increase in memory while three of the seven had an increase in range of motion.  While he’s still analyzing the socialization data, Battles knows from watching the clients in action that their social skills have improved. 

In the next few weeks, Battles plans to incorporate the Wii Fit into the rehab program for the Gallatin facility to improve the clients’ balance and lower body muscles. 

“I see the potential,” he said. “That to me is the most exciting thing.” 

John Birdwell, operations manager at the facility, can see the daily improvement in the clients’ social skills and mobility.   “I was really excited with being on the cutting edge of therapy,” he said.  “We appreciate Dr. Battles giving us the opportunity to be a part of it.” 

Battles and Birdwell are extremely pleased with Effinger’s progress especially since it has been 29 years since his accident.  With traumatic brain injuries, they said, patients typically have about a five-year window to show improvement. 

“Because he was 29 years post accident, most people would say he has no chance to be better than he was,” Birdwell said.  “But it does give hope to other people. They can improve.” 

Battles agreed.  “It has made a difference in his life.  Any time we can improve someone’s quality of life it is well worth it,” he said. 

Effinger, who was a construction worker in Evansville, Ind., when he suffered serious injuries in a head-on collision, said the Wii “is helping me tremendously.” 

He enjoys Wii bowling because “it reminds me of the good old days.  I used to bowl when I was young.”  Bowling has helped improve his coordination and his memory and also has fueled a friendly rivalry with a fellow client.  “We enjoy playing one on one,” Effinger said. “I enjoy the competitiveness of friends.

“The competitive edge gives you a reason to remember,” he said.  “You’ve got to work to remember.  This game really helped with my want to.” 

The competitive spirit of Wii-hab will soon be coming to Bowling Green Retirement Village, Battles said.  About 20 residents will participate in four-team bowling league using the gaming system.