Special Assignment: Game for Treatment

February 21, 2008

AUGUSTA, Ga.---You know the Nintendo Wii as a video game system that's almost impossible to find, but some patients at the Medical College of Georgia know it as something else.

Right now, researchers at M.C.G. are using the interactive game in a ground-breaking study.

Nursing homes are already using it to get patients up and moving, but in our News 12 exclusive special assignment, we have learned it's treating a disease better than any pill.

Playing a video game is certainly not the way Mary McCorkle saw herself getting treatment for her Parkinson's Disease, but she can't imagine it any other way now.

A few months ago, even the idea of the movement required to play the Wii Sports game would have bowled her over.
Now, she's bowling.

She's also playing tennis.

"My family had to touch me to help me walk. Crowds bothered me because I was afraid I would fall, " says Mary.

Not anymore.

She believes it's all thanks to the Nintendo Wii, which is giving back what her Parkinson's Disease took away: her independence.
"Nobody has to hold me now when I walk."

Mary's part of a new study at M.C.G. that's all about occupational therapy for Parkinson's patients.
Therapist Sharon Cosper is proud to be a part of it because "we're improving their quality of life."

The Wii isn't the is a huge part of it.
Researchers are a little more than a month into this first-of-its kind study, and already, Sharon says Mary's results are off the charts.
"I've seen her endurance improve, her balance. With bowling and tennis, it takes a lot of balance from left to right, and she's able to do that better."

Mary's not the only one.
This "Thera-Wii" is changing other lives too.

Dr. Ben Herz, who is one of the doctors heading up the story, says "we have people who were dependent with their dressing and bathing who are now independent. We have people who were just sitting around the house not doing anything, who are now outside, doing stuff all over."

Mary hasn't moved this well in the four years since her Parkinson's diagnosis, and she's only had four weeks of therapy.
Imagine what half a year could do.

I asked Mary if she thought a video game could ever do something like this for her.
"No. No I did not. I didn't want to say, but when I thought about coming down here, I said oh, this is going to waste my time."

Instead, she's having a good time.

She's also trying to beat her therapist at the bowling and tennis games, but it's okay if she doesn't.
She's already beating something far more intimidating.

If the study keeps going well, this could eventually become standard treatment for Parkinson's patients all over the country.

Of course, we'll continue to follow this for you, and let you know how everything goes.

However, these patients could use your help.
Almost all of them want a Wii, but just like ever body else searching for one, they can't find them in the store.
If you see one, particularly Wii Sports, give them a call to alert them where it is.

If you want to help, call the Occupational Therapy Department at M.C.G. at (706) 721-3641.


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