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Seniors can have Wii bit of fun, too

By Peggy Lim

McClatchy Newspapers

RALEIGH, N.C. — It was Mary E. Thomas’ turn up against an 8-year-old.

Thomas, 96, who used to own Fallon’s Florist in Raleigh, N.C., with her husband, had bowled a strike her first try Saturday on the Nintendo Wii video game. On her next two tries, she let the remote fly out of her hand.

"One, two, three," said Thomas, dressed in hose and heels. "Weeeee!"

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Virtual gaming may have a ways to go among retirees, but the challenges of getting seniors to manipulate a wireless remote that translates their arm motions onto a big-screen TV hasn’t prevented Wiis from becoming a popular feature at senior living communities, such as Brighton Gardens in Raleigh, N.C.

It’s part of a growing national trend. For people who’ve never played video games before, Wii may be a less formidable place to start. The game’s console resembles a TV remote control. Nintendo has been marketing the game at AARP conferences and senior-living conventions with exhibits, drawing lines of people to try the game.

Adaptability

At Brighton Gardens, some residents have adopted special strategies to make playing easier.

One resident, Art Schilling, who recently passed away in his 80s, learned how to position his wheelchair at just the right angle so nothing would limit the full arc of his swing. Others have taken to flipping the Wii remote over so they don’t forget to press and let go of a bottom release button.

"I think that strap-around-the-wrist is a good idea," added Karen Sherman, Brighton Gardens executive director.

The strap helps combat the tendency of some seniors, such as Thomas, to let go of the remote as they might in a real bowling game.

Saturday was the first time staff invited family members to participate in a Wii tournament. The idea was the younger generation could show the older folks a few pointers.

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"I’m so nervous," said Joe Gilmore, 81, with trembling hands as she played against her 10-year-old grandson.

Gilmore moved to the community around June with her husband. Her husband died about a week later. His death has been hard on her, said son Robbie Gilmore, 43, of Raleigh.

"But see, she’s giggling like a school girl," he said as her mother finished a game.

He’s glad his son, James, 10, and daughter Grace, 8, get chances to interact with their grandmother through such opportunities. They even brought along friends.

"They were champing at the bit" to come, Gilmore said.

The kids’ motivation may be more than altruistic.

"They are here for the competition, plain and simple," Gilmore said. "They love old people, but if they beat ’em, they’d be all right with that."

That’s OK, said concierge Sarah Windley. Sometimes just watching others makes seniors more comfortable with playing.

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"And anything kids do, they love to watch," she said.

English Fowler, director of community relations, said the residents don’t realize how much exercise they’re getting when they use the Wii. The video games not only get their muscles moving, but also help them improve their balance. Move over, chair exercises.

Staffers say the game also helps those from their Remininscence wing, which includes residents with varying degrees of Alzheimer’s. The game make them recall arm motions and can bring back fond memories.

"I love it," said Anne Seronka, 88, who bowled almost 40 years with her husband in couples leagues.

When the tournament ended, residents sat around tables for a "Happy Hour" of crackers, cheese, wine and sparkling cider. The children kept playing. They switched the other games on the console’s sports package, including baseball and tennis.

So far, the seniors have only tried bowling.

"Tennis — that’ll be next," Fowler said.

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