Nintendo's Wii gets seniors back in the game

Kay Devlin may be 91 and recovering from a fracture, but it didn't stop her from winning a bowling tournament at her old age home in eastern Ontario — thanks to Nintendo's Wii.

Kay Devlin may be 91 and recovering from a fracture, but it didn't stop her from winning a bowling tournament at her old age home in eastern Ontario — thanks to Nintendo's Wii.

Video games have become the latest rage at the Perth Community Care Centre, where staff hope virtual sports will help improve the elderly residents' physical health.
Kay Devlin, 91, beams during a round of Wii bowling that she later won against Charlie Edwards. ((CBC))

Devlin and Charlie Edwards, 72, are among those who have become enthusiastic gamers ever since the facility in Perth, about 70 kilometres southwest of Ottawa, purchased a Wii.

The system lets people play virtual versions of games such as bowling, tennis and golf by mimicking real-life movements with a wand-like wireless controller.

The fact that Devlin is recovering from a bone fracture and Edwards from a stroke didn't stop them from pitting their swings against each other in a friendly Wii Bowling competition.
In Wii bowling, a real swing of the arm can send a virtual ball smashing into virtual pins. ((CBC))

Devlin said the games help draw some residents, including herself, out of their rooms and away from more sedentary activities such as reading.

"I think it's nice to get out and try something different, more interesting," said Devlin, who beat Edwards in the end.

Perhaps it was because he had a sore arm from practising too much over the weekend.

"Everyone asks me, 'Were the balls heavy? Were you using the ten pin or five pin?'" Edwards said. "I said, 'No, I was using a little box in my hand."

Joyce Firlotte, the centre's administrator, said she decided to introduce the Wii after hearing at a long-term-care conference in Toronto that Wii games could help make people more active.
Charlie Edwards, 72, holds a Wii controller, winding up for a throw. ((CBC))

Centre physiotherapist Danielle Mingelinckx said the games are helping Devlin improve her balance and muscle strength when she is standing.

As for Edwards, who couldn't walk when he arrived at the centre, "this does a lot for his balance and his coordination and his confidence," she said, adding that it helps motivate him to work at regaining his fine motor control.

Devlin said she sees the benefits herself.

"It's giving me an interest and it's also exercising my arm," she said. "I'm standing up and getting down and that's good exercise for me."

It's not just the residents themselves that benefit, said Firlotte.

"It even helps bring family," she said, adding that many long-term care homes are a very unfamiliar environment for children and teenagers.

 "This is pretty neat that they can come in and feel that there's something that's on their level when they go to visit their grandmother or great-grandmother."