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Me and Wii (part five: Flying disembodied Panda Heads)

Posted Jan 20 2011 12:00am

Part freakin' FIVE? I agree, this is taking things a little far, and I promise to move on in the next post. Just hang in a bit longer while I wrap things up. The motivation for this series is serious. There have been many recent articles on how great the Wii is for people with Parkinson's Disease. Check out my favorite, courtesy of the British tab The Sun Banker stopped Parkinson's Disease by playing on Wii (thanks, Jo). This article touted the Wii's miraculous healing powers as being just short of those of the deceased Pope John Paul II, who is inching toward canonization thanks to his alleged miraculous cure of a nun supposed to have Parkinson's. No word yet whether there was a Wii involved.

Aside from the hype, why care about the Wii? First, many people with Parkinson's are unable or unwilling to leave the house for exercise. The Wii allows one to exercise at home, and in case you didn't hear me the first three (thousand) times, exercise is critical to managing PD. Second, one of the categories of skill the Wii tries to work is balance. Balance is a big area of concern to those of us who have PD. It is also one of the more intractable sides of the disorder. When I ask experts about what we can do maintain balance, there is little they can offer. The most practical advice came from a neurologist who advised honing your balance skills before falling becomes a problem. His idea is that if you "overcompensate" up front in the balance area you will have a longer glide-path down than if you neglect these skills before they are seriously menaced by PD.

This leads me to my two questions about the Wii. The first question: Is it interesting enough to keep a person exercising at home? The second: Can the Wii fortify balance in PD patients significantly over time? Alas, the answer to both these questions as tested unscientifically by one person with a huge stake in the answer will not be conclusive. One person is a pitifully small study sample and there are no control subjects. But with Parkinson's so much that is unknown that those of us afflicted must play our hunches as much as we responsibly can. With that in mind, this series will continue. But not until I get a significant amount of time under my belt with the thing so that I can render, perhaps, a little judgment on those questions.

In the space of a month, what have I learned about the Wii? There are a great variety of activities. This bodes well for prospects of continuing to exercise without being derailed by boredom. The experience can have a striking resemblance to reality. Ironically this is especially vivid when something surreal is happening, like getting struck in the face by a flying, disembodied Panda head. And one can genuinely work up a real sweat exercising with imaginary companions. There are certainly aspects of the Wii that are off-putting. Call me oversensitive, but I find garish color and cloying graphics well, garish and cloying. But so far, on balance the machine is ambitious and successful as one part of my exercise routine.
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