Rogue Valley Manor resident Maggie Honegger reacts to making a strike during a Wii game of bowling. - Jim Craven

On the move with Wii

MEDFORD — On a bright and sunny morning one day last week, sounds of excitement and friendly competition erupted around a television set displaying a Nintendo Wii.

The gamers, many of whom had already spent some time "playing" outside — thanks very much — were ribbing one another while taking turns knocking over bowling pins via a motion-sensing remote control dubbed a "Wiimote."

The only element missing from the round of Nintendo bowling — aside from smelly shoes and matching shirts — was a parent or two nagging the gamers about homework or chores.

Gaining ground with retirees around the nation, the Nintendo Wii has recently drawn praise from doctors and health-care providers. The popular game is now more than just a game, it's a valuable tool for getting seniors moving, increasing the mobility of creaky joints and fostering hand-eye coordination.

This particular morning, it was doing exactly that.

Jean Dunham and Maggie Honegger, residents of the Rogue Valley Manor's Skyview Plaza, squared off for 10 frames of bowling on the residents' newly acquired Wii.

"Jean, if you strike "¦" Honegger threatened.

"Alright, here we go "¦ Look at that!" Dunham proclaimed, using the Wiimote to guide her bowling ball down a red dotted line.

Dunham knocked down seven pins, to which Honegger teased, "That's the reason she lives at the Manor!"

On her turn, Honegger took some time to warm up but barely avoided a gutter ball, knocking down a single pin.

"Not very good," Dunham retorted with a smirk.

When Honegger tried to take another turn, the competition kicked up a notch.

"No Maggie, it's my turn. I'm going to show you how to roll a strike!" Dunham insisted.

Nine pins and a gutter ball for Dunham, then a strike for Honegger, who immediately hopped up and down.

"It's a strike! It's a strike!" she shouted.

Admittedly captivated by the game, the pair was hardly surprised to hear about the benefits for older populations being attributed to the Wii. The Manor's new game has been a conversation piece at dinner, Dunham noted.

Ed Nicholson, the Manor's resident "Wii guru," said he's seen commercials showing seniors participating in Wii tournaments.

According to recent news reports, the health-care provider, Health Net, is even offering to donate a Wii game to senior citizen centers in various states, including Oregon to help get residents involved in virtual bowling tournaments.

Nicholson was one of the Manor's first residents to adopt the new game. He is in the process of setting up tournaments among residents and is having the Wii incorporated into the Manor's "summer games."

"I've kind of taken some responsibility because I serve on the residents' council up here in charge of recreation and this was another avenue to get some of our residents to be more active," he said.

"Those that have tried it, have really liked it "¦ we started doing signups after New Year's and right away we had over 40 people who came to get instruction. It's a good idea and it keeps us moving."

Shari Walker, recreation director for the Manor, said the game has injected some energy — and friendly competition — in the Manor's list of recreational opportunities.

"I'm seeing residents I haven't seen in years coming up from the cottages to check out the Wii," Walker said.

"We've had groups of residents here waiting for us in the morning when we come to set it up "¦ It's been terrific."

Each game, Walker noted, holds the memory of past scores for up to 180 players. Residents, too, she noted, had recently learned to customize the look of their players, creating 'Mii' characters. The game even offers gray hair and adult hairstyles as options.

Nicholson said the biggest plus of Wii is that residents who don't often take advantage of outdoor activities can increase their activity level.

"I tried it just sitting down to see how it would work and you could do some of these games even if you were in a wheelchair because it doesn't require you to stand up and put out a lot of effort unless you want to," Nicholson said.

"It really works that eye-hand coordination and sense of timing "¦ and anything like this that makes your brain work keeps us from getting old too fast!

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at

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