Game on for LTC

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Game on for LTC
Game on for LTC
Residents of long-term care facilities have more recreational options than ever before thanks to technology and progressive-minded activity directors. Whether they are looking for competition, physical fitness, social engagement or leisure activities with a wellness component, today's seniors have a wide variety of choices.

Credit the activities revolution to a younger, more vibrant senior population with divergent interests and greater affinity for health and wellness. “Recreation has evolved, in a general sense, in long-term care facilities over the short term though the addition of wellness, fitness and health facilities, designed to keep residents healthy or help them achieve a new level of health through exercise options,” maintains Ginny Kappler, U.S. professional sales manager NuStep, a creator of cross-training equipment.

“Even the physically disabled can use it to re-engage their muscles and work out to an advanced cardio level,” she noted.

The evolution of systems is palpable, believes Charles de Vilmorin, CEO of Linked Senior.

“The change is happening before our eyes with the different approaches to wellness in communities,” he said.

“Today's seniors want to stay connected to the world while engaging in activities their whole lives. There is also a great thirst for learning and discovering.”

Moreover, creating innovative activities has become a major marketing tool for some communities, de Vilmorin says.

“Proof of that is how more and more communities are posting their activities calendars on their websites for prospective customers to see,” he said.

The youngest seniors — the leading edge of the baby boomers — are calling for “age appropriate, dignified” recreational options, and technology figures heavily into their desires, says Lori Snow, director of sales and marketing for It's Never 2 Late.

“This is a generation used to technology and all the benefits it brings; from high-definition TVs with movies on demand to iPads and cell phones,” she said. “Their favorite music is in their pocket and favorite books are in their Kindle. Without technology, they are tough to please.”

Techno-tainment
It's Never 2 Late recently conducted a pilot program with Microsoft, putting the company's computers into the hands of homebound seniors.

“It was really transformational for us,” Snow said. “While we know connecting seniors with technology to keep them engaged and connected to loved ones is important — just how important is really affirming. We are finding that opening up the world of email and Internet exploration, mind-engaging games and activities is actually giving purpose to their lives. One resident said that having a computer made his ‘life worth living' and that he couldn't imagine life without it.”

Widescreen LED television is also revolutionizing the way seniors view movies and TV shows, said Tim Wright, director of LG Healthcare Products, LG Electronics Business Solutions USA. Not only does the new generation of widescreen, high-definition units offer better viewing, they also give facility décor “a sleek, modern look,” he said.

For resident rooms, LG offers 26-inch and 32-inch class sizes and each set comes standard with a “senior friendly” seven-button membrane remote, a standard setup remote and large font on-screen displays.

“The large, simplified remote is ergonomically designed with only seven large buttons, enabling patients to easily see the correct button to push and allowing for easy cleaning,” Wright said.  “Notably, the on-screen display uses a larger font to help the aging patient see the channel that they want to watch.”

Bulk TV & Internet focuses on helping facilities offer the type of programming their residents favor, said Emily Bradshaw, the firm's marketing coordinator.

“Every community has different needs and wants,” she said. “We think it is important to offer facilities a lot of options so they can tailor to their residents. Our system allows facilities to customize their own channel line-up so they can provide their residents with more suitable channels such as Turner Classic Movies and the Game Show Network. We also offer HD upgrade options and Internet packages for the tech-savvy resident.”

Wii leagues
Virtual sports such as Nintendo Wii bowling have been growing at an amazing pace over the past couple of years. This acute interest prompted Dennis Berkholtz to launch the National Senior League, a bowling competition that takes place in the spring and fall, as well as a Wii golfing championship every summer.

The number of participating teams has varied from 128 to 144 over the past four seasons, Berkholtz said, with an average of six roster players per team.

“We expect those numbers to greatly increase in the near future,” he said.

Among the new entries into the league are rehabilitation centers, which Berkholtz says is “an indication that the Wii gaming system is providing physical exercise.”

What started as a novelty a few years ago has become a legitimate tournament that invites serious competitors from seniors housing establishments everywhere.

“The level of competition has gone up dramatically from the first year,” Berkholtz notes. “In the spring league we had 47 Wii bowlers get a total of 153 perfect games. Of the 144 teams, probably 20 to 25 are very competitive and try to win. The average Wii Bowling score for all competitors over two years of competition is 175, while the Wii bowlers on the top teams all average 225 to 230. The very best teams average about 268 per bowler.”

Pun and games
To be sure, this has gone big time in just two years and only figures to get bigger with the involvement of LeadingAge for the Fall 2011 Wii Bowling League. For the first time, the NSL Championship will be sponsored by a national association and will be a featured attraction at the LeadingAge annual meeting in Washington on Oct. 18.

“The LeadingAge sponsorship of the final competition will definitely help us,” Berkholtz said. “We are going to have the final two teams play for the championship on site during the LeadingAge annual meeting. We are also going to webcast it live so everyone in the senior industry will have a chance to view it at that time or at a later date. ”

Visitors are liable to see teams that have adopted clever, pun-laden team names like Screamin' Wii Mii's, UnbeWiiVables and Pin Mii's.

As participation and performance levels have soared, the NSL organizational chart has gotten much more sophisticated. Following seven weeks of league competition, the tournament goes into playoff mode. Based on results of league play as determined by level of play, teams are split into three divisions — The Championship Division, The Elite Division and The Master Division.

“In the end, everyone has a chance to win,” Berkholtz said. “The concept has worked well as sometimes those who don't bowl well get a little frustrated by the results. We tell them to hang in there until playoff time when teams are more equal in ability.”

To make it more like “real” leagues, NSL is considering changing the league format whereby Wii bowling averages come into play and handicaps are used to even the teams, Berkholtz said.

“Our statistical abilities allow us to do that now but we have not yet implemented the concept,” he said.  “We may also keep a ‘scratch' division for some of our bowlers that are real competitors.”

One of the catalysts for Wii Bowling's tremendous success has been the camaraderie and social aspects of the competition, though Berkholtz says he'd like to see more “fans” come out and support their teams.

“Overall, we get many good comments from our coaches, who generally are the activity directors,” he said. “The most basic are ‘how fun it is, how social it is, and how friendships develop from community participation.' So far, however, we've been disappointed that more of a ‘team spirit' has not yet evolved within the communities, because the NSL offers the only opportunity for communities to actually be represented by teams on a national basis in national competition.” 

NSL has other ideas to continually innovate and improve the level of Wii Bowling competition, such as managing state and regional championships for the spring league. To date, Georgia, Florida, California, Pennsylvania, Texas and Illinois are ready for state championships, Berkholtz said.

“The remainder of the states will be split into seven regions and will play in a regional championship,” he said. “Hopefully in a few years, all the states can have their own championships. It takes a minimum of eight teams to have a championship bracket and we're not sure we are there yet in most states.”

Under this format, Berkholtz says, more emphasis and importance will be placed on the National Championship.
“We're also hopeful that as a result of having a relationship with LeadingAge, we can introduce the league on an international level, thus increasing the number of teams and making the NSL more exciting to residents,” he said.

Video and beyond

It's Never 2 Late is one of the pioneers in developing video-based entertainment for seniors and while it took some time for the concept to catch on, computers and virtual activities are now commonplace in most senior living facilities. Yet CEO Jack York says the company's products are more than just “video games” that merely serve as a pastime.

“From a product standpoint, it is all about content, content, content,” he said. “Our systems are more about a therapy context as opposed to an activity context. I have trouble getting caught up in just ‘video games,' as we think the broader term of engagement is what we're about.”

To create fresh experiences for users, IN2L's development team has come up with new simple touch-screen puzzles to enhance users' engagement, York said.

“We have all kinds of new experiences for people with dementia,” he said. “We've also entered into partnerships with multiple content providers that have added research-based brain fitness, fall prevention videos, exercise videos, life story-telling software and spiritual content. We have even partnered with one of our customers, Selfhelp, to provide Jewish content for our customer base.”

In canvassing seniors about what they want from electronic media, York says he has learned that “staying connected” is very important to them. Hence, he says seniors' usage of social media and Web-based communications is growing by leaps and bounds.

“We've seen an absolute explosion of Skype as a true phenomenon — not just in independent living, but across the whole continuum,” York said. “I predict that within two years, virtually every senior living community in the country will have easy access to Skype. Facebook is exploding across the senior network as well, so we're making sure to introduce that functionality into our systems.”
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