Need to Exercise? Try “Wii-hab!”

As our parents or other loved ones age, we never like to see them sitting around all day watching television, but motivating them to do more exercise and mind stimulation could be a struggle at times. I spend quite a bit of time visiting residential care homes, assisted living and memory care communities. When I visit these locations, there is nothing better than to see a smile on an elderly resident’s face. It is also quite uplifting for me to see these residents as active as they are able to.

We were about to move a client into a community in the east bay, and while I was there I noticed quite a bit of activity around the big-screen TV in the lobby area. I asked someone what all the people were doing there. “Oh, they’re getting ready for their Wii bowling tournament against another assisted living community,” she said. Well, you have to see it to believe it! There were residents in their wheelchairs, walkers and some even had on team bowling shirts they used to wear some years back in their bowling leagues. So, I went up to one of the residents and asked when the other team was showing up. “They don’t come here,” he said. “They are at their assisted living community and we are playing them live…I guess this works through the Internet somehow!” he added.

I have to say, this put chills down my arms to see the excitement in anticipation of the match. I had to watch a few frames, and if there were admission, I would’ve gladly paid it. The facial expressions, high-fives, arm movements and leg movements (for those who were able to) were amazing to see. I had to find out more information about this form of exercise for seniors.

Elizabeth Orsega-Smith, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor and Director of the Graduate Health Program in the Department of Behavioral Health and Nutrition at the University of Delaware. She has conducted research on the use of “exergames,” games that require physical exertion as an input to gain feedback from the system – with older adults. Orsega-Smith is finding that the right games used the right way can actually improve health and well-being. Her target population, however, is about 60 years older than the typical video game player. Here are some of her findings:

• In playing Wii tennis using serve, forehand or backhand motions, patients perform repetitive movements that may aid dexterity, strength, range of motion and balance, while participating in a challenging video game.

• Playing the Wii game system may test older adults' cognitive abilities. Using the Wii game system requires the participant to see the video game event, process what he/she sees, and then react appropriately. This can stimulate the mind more than simply watching a television show.

• Beyond the physical activity values, the Wii system may offer psychosocial benefits. Older adults may benefit from social support, encouragement and camaraderie when playing exergames in a group setting. Just the occasional reinforcement such as "Great shot!" along with a laugh or two can improve an older adult's psychological state. They may find feelings of accomplishment, with recognition that “even old people can play.”

Another positive social outcome is the potential for seniors to meet the younger generation on a more level playing field. “This shows older adults that they can learn new technology,” Orsega-Smith says, “and it may spur more interaction with their grandchildren. Wii playing," concluded Orsega-Smith, "may be a vehicle for physical activity participation, especially for those older adults who do not have access to a fitness facility or who may have physical limitations to their mobility."

That’s not all. There is now a Wii bowling league called the National Senior League located on the web at . The organization is located in Atlanta but is open to leagues that want to form at senior communities, including independent living communities, assisted living, nursing homes, adult day care centers and senior centers.

So, attempt “Wii-hab” and try and avoid “Rehab.”

Frank M. Samson is Founder of Senior Care Authority based in Sonoma and also hosts “The Aging Boomers” on KSVY 91.3 or can be listened to live at, every Monday at 2pm PT. The company provides free assistance to families in helping them find In-Home Care, Independent and Assisted Living for their loved ones. He can be reached at 707.939.8744 or e-mailed at The company website is