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FUN, GAMES AND REHABILITATION

Doctors are using the Wii video game system as physical therapy for recovering patients.

Some call it "Wii-habilitation."

Nintendo's Wii video game system, whose popularity already extends beyond the teen gaming set, is fast becoming a craze in rehab therapy for patients recovering from strokes, broken bones, surgery and even combat injuries.

The usual stretching and lifting exercises that help the sick or injured regain strength can be painful, repetitive and downright boring.

In fact, many patients say PT - physical therapy's nickname - really stands for "pain and torture," said James Osborn, who oversees rehabilitation services at Herrin Hospital in southern Illinois.

Using the game console's unique, motion-sensitive controller, Wii games require body movements similar to traditional therapy exercises.

"In the Wii system, because it's kind of a game format, it does create this kind of inner competitiveness. ... It's amazing how many of our patients want to beat their opponent," said Osborn of Southern Illinois Healthcare.

"When people can refocus their attention from the tediousness of the physical task, oftentimes they do much better," Osborn said.

Nintendo Co. doesn't market Wii's use in physical therapy, but company representative Anka Dolecki said, "We are happy to see that people are finding added benefit in rehabilitation."

The most popular Wii games in rehab involve sports - baseball, bowling, boxing, golf and tennis. Using the same arm swings required by those sports, players wave a wireless controller that directs the actions of animated athletes on the screen.

At Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the therapy is well-suited to patients injured during combat in Iraq, who tend to be in the 19-to-25 age range - a group that's "very into" playing video games, said Lt. Col. Stephanie Daugherty, Walter Reed's chief of occupational therapy.

"They think it's for entertainment, but we know it's for therapy," she said.

It's useful in occupational therapy, which helps patients relearn daily living skills like brushing teeth, combing hair and fastening clothes, Daugherty said.

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