"Wii-Hab" helps young father regain balance

April 9, 2009 8:45:23 PM PDT
there's a big change happening in physical therapy and rehabilitation. And it's thanks to an unlikely device - the Wii game system.

Physical therapist Margaret Fitzpatrick tells her patient, "Close your eyes and try to keep your balance."

As she does, 40-year-old Tom Mannon closes his eyes, and begins to teeter.

Mannon is trying to regain what most of us take for granted - balance.

Last December, after surgery to solve an inner ear problem failed, Tom lost his balance.

Mannon, a father of 3 from Warminster, Bucks County, says, "I remember driving home from the hospital, and my wife turning the corner, and my just grabbing the handrails, cause I felt like I was falling over in the car."

The electrician says he can't work, and everyday life has been rough.

Mannon told us, "I was falling every week, shower falls, tripping over things."

Fitzpatrick says, "When Tom came in, he was blinking, he could not even focus."

To help Mannon recover, Fitzpatrick, of Willow Grove Physical Therapy, uses conventional visual exercises to help his brain adapt to the loss of balance.

"Focus and go up and down again," Margaret instructs Mannon, as he looks at cards posted on a wall.

She's also incorporating something new - the Nintendo Wii game system.

Today's game is soccer.

Tom's goal is to hit the soccer balls with his head, while missing the flying shoes.

Fitzpatrick says, "A lot of weight shifting, a lot of focusing on an object in front of you, and getting your eyes and ears to communicate to one another."

All these things can help improve balance. And the game keeps score, so it's easy to track Tom's progress.

"Nice, nice. You've been practicing," she notes.

Although it's slow, Tom has been making strides.

The fun of the game helps him stick with it and rehab. experts says that's been a big challenge in the past.

Tom's even practicing outside the therapy sessions.

"It's one of the things I can do with the kids," Tom says excitedly.

The Wii games have been so popular with rehab centers, doctors believe Nintendo may soon start writing games specifically with patients in mind.

For more information on Willow Grove Physical Therapy.

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