Seniors at retirement communities are flocking to Wii gaming systems to relive old sports memories, get active and keep their minds sharp.byJeannie Robertsdiane bondareff
Stimulating body and mind
Here are some popular ways that seniors stay busy and stimulated at local senior facilities.

• Music. Many seniors played instruments in their youth and can be convinced to try it again. Most senior residences have pianos and other simple instruments available.

• Dancing. The Cleveland Heights Senior Activity Center (216-691-7377) is one of many places that offers dancing activities. It has “tea dances” once a month, as well as Scottish dancing and line dancing.

• Intergenerational gardening. In the spring, seniors love to introduce children to the wonders of gardening, planting seeds and watching them sprout. Gardening also provides physical movement.

• Trips. Outings to various community events can include fine arts productions, museums, sporting events and parades.

• Book or journaling groups. A soft ball or toy can be tossed around the room to indicate whose turn it is to speak. Seniors can be encouraged to use their nondominant hand to write or draw in journals, a method of accessing a different part of the brain and tapping into the subconscious. Sharing childhood memories often stimulates colorful discussions.

To find senior activities, contact your town’s
senior center or call the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging (216-621-8010, www. psa10a.org) or Golden Age Centers of Greater Cleveland (216-231-6500, www.gacgc.org), which has numerous locations throughout Cleveland and the southeast suburbs.
Edward shuffles forward, trying to forget that a stroke has rendered one side of his body useless. He is thinking about his glory days as a league bowler. He’s heard about this new video-game machine, but he hasn’t the faintest clue how it works. He doesn’t particularly care, either. It looks like fun, and what’s important is that, at 80-something, he can still bowl, without picking up the ball.

With a wireless controller strapped to his wrist, he merely goes through the motion of bowling, holding down a button until he’s ready to release the “ball.” The big screen on the wall shows him that, even all these years later, his ball curves nicely toward the center of the lane.

What a world.

When the Nintendo Wii first came to Devon Oaks Assisted Living in Westlake, Edward was skeptical.Video games?he thought.Look around. What does a video game have to do with us? Nothing.

Now ask him. “Everything.”

Devon Oaks is just one of several Cleveland-area senior living centers that offer the Nintendo Wii gaming system for residents to play. (Judson Park, Eliza Jennings, Brighton Gardens and the Mentor Senior Center are some others.) At Devon Oaks and, by all accounts, everywhere else, the Wii is a gigantic senior sensation. And why not?

“It’s a wonderful way to get seniors up and moving and into activities they thought were lost to them forever,” says Laurie Clark-Roath, fitness director at The Renaissance in Olmsted Falls. “It’s like watching them recapture their youth, almost. There’s nothing better in the world to make you feel good than to recapture something you used to love and be able to do.”

The interactive game system is simple to use. Games such as bowling, baseball, golf and tennis are played simply by going through the natural movement of the games while holding the controller, which transfers the movements to a TV screen or, in the case of The Renaissance, a giant wall screen. Less physically active games, such as “Big Brain Academy,” help keep the mind sharp. The beauty of Wii is that anybody can do it, and it can be done from a wheelchair, a walker or a couch.

“If your upper body strength is better than your lower body strength, you can do it sitting down,” says Carrie Cuadrado, marketing director at Devon Oaks. “You can be as active with it or as laid back with it as you want. It’s extremely good for hand-eye coordination.”

It’s also good even for those who’d rather watch than participate. Wii has proven to pique the curiosity of some residents who rarely came out of their rooms before. They just have to know what all the excitement is about.

“The camaraderie and excitement they share is really wonderful to watch,” Clark-Roath says. “You can see that they’re all rooting for each other. Social, physical, emotional — there are so many aspects that this system touches upon. And they love it so much, they don’t want to stop.”

One recent day, Clark-Roath got a group of residents started on Wii at 1:30 p.m. and left them to go into a meeting at 2. “They were still playing at 3:30 when I came back,” she says. “They were having a blast.”
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