March 28, 2008

Popular video game adds a Wii bit of fun to physical therapy

Featured Image

Chris Ruckert, 18, a patient with cystic fibrosis, and physical therapist Amber Yampolsky face off in a Wii boxing match. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Popular video game adds a Wii bit of fun to physical therapy

Used to be, when patients with cystic fibrosis saw Physical Therapist Amber Yampolsky coming, they'd groan and think up some excuse not to get out of bed.

But a popular video game — the Wii — is changing all that.

“Since we've been using it in our therapy, particularly the boxing game, the kids are actually excited when we come to do physical therapy in their room, and that's a major change,” said Yampolsky, a physical therapist for the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt.

So far, Wiis are being used on the pediatric hematology/oncology unit and in a special project with cystic fibrosis (CF) patients of Elizabeth Perkett, M.D.

As the project grows, it may also be used for treating balance, strength, or joint problems in a variety of illnesses.

The usual physical therapy goal for CF patients is to get 30 minutes of endurance exercise each day. But because they can't leave their rooms, options are limited.

“Exercise is important to increasing lung function, airway clearance and activity tolerance,” Yampolsky said. “Walking back and forth in a room or riding a stationary bike just isn't fun, especially for these patients who can be confined to their hospital rooms for up to 14 days.”

Chris Ruckert, 18, isn't happy to be in the hospital anyway. Like many teens or young adults with CF, he's got better things he could be doing with his time, so getting motivated for several minutes of pacing or stationary cycling can be difficult. When Yampolsky rolls the TV monitor into his room, it's a refreshing change.

“I enjoy it,” he says. “It's more fun and a good way to get some exercise.”

Yampolsky hands Ruckert a pair of gloves first for infection control. She dons a pair as well, then they each take a “Wii” wand and start punching buttons.

“The patients like the boxing game, and we have found it gets their heart rates up higher than the tennis or baseball games. We also have an order in for an Olympics version, with swimming and other Olympic sports,” Yampolsky says.

The two start the game and begin throwing punches at the screen. Before long, Chris's player knocks Yampolsky's out. The looks of concentration, faces intent on the screen, are the same as you'd see in an ordinary video game.

The smiles are too — but the two of them are using full body motion to make the punches connect, so before long, both work up a light sweat and are breathing a little harder.

Elizabeth Perkett, M.D., director of the CF program, has provided support for the project and often refers patients with CF to the PT department. Standardized measures are being used to record the effect of Wii games on increasing heart rate, respiratory rate, perceived effort and oxygen levels.

“If we can show that this helps motivate patients to reach the goals we try to achieve with physical therapy, then what a great way to exercise and have fun too,” Yampolsky said. “If our study shows the Wii provides the same exercise benefits of traditional exercises, then we hope to find support to make it a permanent part of what we do.”