There was a time — very recently, in fact — when parents told their children video games were good only for wasting time.

(From left) Linda Neighbors, Robert Brunner, Laura Ellis, Brian King and Gayle Benson (back) demonstrate the types of physical therapy patients undergo at the Spain Rehabilitation Center. Brunner, SRC medical director, hopes to add four Nintendo Wiis as part of the rehab procedure for patients. UAB’s Greek system is holding a fund raiser April 4-5 to raise the $10,000 needed to purchase the systems, TVs and accessories.

The Nintendo Wii is changing some of that thinking, and Spain Rehabilitation Center (SRC) intends to demonstrate that video games aren’t just for kids anymore. In fact, many physical therapists believe the Wii can help patients recuperate from injuries related to stroke, spinal cord and the brain.

UAB’s Greek organization chapters are raising money to help SRC purchase four Nintendo Wii systems and games for use in rehabilitation. The 16 UAB fraternities and sororities are holding a 24-hour Wii marathon Friday and Saturday April 4-5 at the Hill University Center to raise the $10,000 needed to purchase the systems, TVs and related accessories for the four SRC treatment areas.

“Truthfully, the Wii seems like the perfect tool for the rehab world,” says Robert Brunner, M.D., SRC medical director. “It’s almost like it was designed for it.”

UAB’s Greek community is excited about coming together to raise money to help the patients at the SRC.

“We wanted to do an all-Greek philanthropy as a way to promote Greek unity and because we realize that we can accomplish more if we work together for a common goal,” says Danielle Wiggins, president of Alpha Omicron Pi. “We heard that Spain Rehab needed money to buy Wii game systems to use with their patients as a rehabilitation tool, and the Greek community wanted to be a part of helping them achieve that. Although each fraternity and sorority has its own international philanthropy it supports, it is great to come together to benefit our community.”

UAB Greek chapters are soliciting pledges and taking donations in a competition between the individual chapters to raise the most money. Contributions also may be made on behalf of the entire Greek system before or during the event. All proceeds go to UAB Spain Rehabilitation Center and are tax-deductible.

“It’s awesome that the Greek community decided to do this project for us,” Brunner says. “I think these gaming consoles are going to help many people on the road to recovery.”

Supplement to conventional therapy
The Wii is a family-oriented gaming console that is sweeping the nation, selling 432,000 units in the United States this past month. More than 8 million Wiis have been sold worldwide since its release in late 2006.

Because the Wii is an interactive console, users are required to incorporate all parts of the body to play games such as tennis, boxing, bowling and baseball. Physical therapists believe patients can benefit by building balance, coordination, endurance and upper- and lower-body strength as they recover from injuries.

The Wii will not replace any conventional therapy offered by SRC, but instead supplement traditional therapy. Brunner says the Wii will provide an additional method to meet specific therapy goals for patients — and offer patients a fun way to facilitate their rehabilitation.

“Initially when we get the Wiis we will place them in our therapy gyms,” he says. “In the future we hope to create access to this equipment during off-hours for our patients.

“It means their free time will not be spent sitting in their room but being active and essentially extending their therapy day.”

Another Wii
Another group in Spain Rehab also wants to purchase a Wii for its patients.

Christina Oleson, M.D., whose clinical interests include spinal-cord injury, multiple sclerosis and performing-arts medicine, recently received a grant from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Foundation specifically for adapted technology. The goal is to make technology accessible to individuals with spinal-cord injuries.

Phil Klebine, assistant director of research services at SRC, is leading the effort to determine the type of equipment to purchase with the grant funds. He says one of the purchases will be a Wii.

“We are setting up a room with three individualized stations. We’re going to have a laptop, regular desktop PC and a Wii system,” Klebine says. “We want the patients to see how they can use these items for work, school and entertainment, which the Wii certainly provides. It will be fun for everybody, and it will make the job more fun for our professionals, too.”

Brunner says patients of all ages and various injuries will be able to rehab with the Wii. Other rehab hospitals in the northeastern United States and Canada have begun using the gaming console to help those who have suffered strokes, spinal-cord and traumatic brain injuries.

Sports games are the most popular of the hundreds of gaming titles that promote balance, coordination, upper and lower body strength and help build endurance. Many of those interactive games also force people to stand upright and use motions they would use if they were playing the games on an actual tennis court, boxing ring or baseball field.

Both Brunner and Klebine hope UAB will be able to participate in research studies with patients in the future to better gauge the effectiveness of the Wii in promoting recovery.

“This is going to be a big benefit to our patients and it’s going to give them additional motivation during their rehabilitation process,” Brunner says. “I eventually see where we could carry rehabilitation from the gym to the room. Down the road, who knows, they may be so effective we might have Wiis in all patient rooms.”