Who says all video games are bad for you?

According to the December issue of Good Housekeeping magazine, the Nintendo Wii game system has surprising benefits for people with Parkinson's disease.

Researchers were amazed to find use of the Wii system for one month with 20 Parkinson's patients improved their motors skills, increased their energy level, and alleviated symptoms of depression. The participants in the study, who are in all stages of the disease but do not have gait problems, played Wii tennis, bowling, and boxing for one hour each, three times a week. They continued to show improvement as long as they played regularly, however, when they stopped playing for one month, their motor skills depreciated and their symptoms of depression returned.

The secret, according to researcher and occupational therapist Dr. Ben Herz from the Medical College of Georgia, is chemistry - specifically dopamine. Dopamine is the substance the brain releases responsible for normal movement. Video games and exercise both cause the brain to secrete dopamine, which is normally deficient in persons with Parkinson's disease. Dopamine is essential for voluntary, functional movements, which can worsen rapidly in Parkinson's cases if they are not routinely used. Use of the Wii system enhances both while having fun.

As Dr.Herz says, "Game systems are the future of rehab."

His next project involves Parkinson's patients with gait problems to see how they respond to the Wii.

The beauty of Wii games is they can be enjoyed in a home environment and closely simulate the activities they portray. The games require hand-eye coordination, depth and distance perception, and sequenced movement - all areas that improve with practice. The games are also a great way for caregivers to spend quality time with their loved ones, no matter what their ability.

The Senior Connection is a column provided by the Clinton County Office for the Aging. For more information about services for senior citizens, contact their office at 135 Margaret St., Suite 105, Plattsburgh or call them at 565-4620.

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