Senior gamers: Wii helping Laurels residents stay active

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Kathy Chaffin
Junior Girl Scouts Chloe Burks and Caroline Parrott got a chance to experience the joy that comes from giving up close and personal Friday afternoon.
They watched in delight as residents of The Laurels of Salisbury played on their new Nintendo Wii Fit video game system. Chloe, 10, and Caroline, 11, made beaded jewelry and sold it to raise about $350 to buy the system as a project for their Leadership Award for Troop 511.
“To see the happy looks on their faces,” Caroline said, “it made me feel real good to have given them the nice present.”
Chloe said: “We did it for a good cause, and it just made me very grateful that we could do that.”
The Junior Girl Scouts got the idea from Chloe’s father, Dan, a physical therapist at The Laurels skilled nursing and rehabilitation center on Lash Drive. He had told them how the interactive fitness system was being used in other facilities to help residents with rehabilitation.
Dan Burks took the Wii to The Laurels Tuesday, so residents had a chance to try it out before Chloe and Caroline got to see them playing on Friday.
Accompanying Chloe were her mother, Jennifer, and her two sisters, 8-year-old Elly and 3-year-old Lucy. Caroline’s mother, Carole, and her 7-year-old twin brother and sister, Harrison and Carsyn, were also present along with Mikell and Yorke Reynolds, leaders of Troop 511, which meets at St. John’s Lutheran Church.
Though Chloe and Caroline were on hand to offer assistance to residents on how to use the controls, which staff attached to their arms with a wrist strap, most seemed to have already caught on.
Resident Jimmy Bryant of Salisbury has the highest score in bowling so far, said Administrator Casey Baucom.
Though Baucom said Bryant and Lonnie Haynes of Granite Quarry have played with the Wii the most, a few of the female residents seemed to have developed their bowling and baseball skills.
“Yea, way to go,” said Diane Spicer, rehabilitation services director, after resident Janelle Hill struck out a baseball character on the television. “You didn’t know you had a pitcher in the facility, did you?” Spicer asked Baucom.
“I heard rumors,” Baucom said.
It seems 85-year-old Hill really was quite the pitcher in her day.
Growing up in Roanoke, Va., she tried out for a teenage girls’ baseball team when she was 12. Hill said she walked to the tryouts and told the coach she wanted to play.
“He looked down at the top of my head,” she said, “and he said, ‘How old are you?’ ”
Hill said she told him, and the coach responded by telling her she was too young. But instead of going home, she sat back down with the others trying out.
Two more times, Hill said she walked up to the coach to try out. On her third try, he put her on third base, where she said she caught everything he hit her way.
When the coach announced who had made the team, Hill said he started out by saying he was going to do something different that year and put a 12-year-old on third base.
She played third the first year, then took over as pitcher the second year. When the softball came out the following year, Hill said she had to change her overhead pitch to a swift underhand that took a little dip right before it got to the batter.
Hill, who came to The Laurels to be close to her daughter, Happy East, in Salisbury, is also a good bowler, having once played in a national bowling championship in Atlanta.
The staff at The Laurels seemed as excited as the residents by the Wii.
Spicer said the physical motions used in the games help residents with such issues as balance, core stability and weight shifting. To play the games, residents use some of the same motions as if they were really bowling, pitching, etc.
The boxing game, which requires players to use two controls as if they’re actually boxing, is even more strenuous, she said.
Baucom said playing the Wii Fit is great exercise for the residents.
“It really has made a big difference,” he said. “It’s just one more activity that we can offer everyone.”
Jimmy Bryant, who has been at The Laurels for two week recovering from a massive heart attack, said he’s grateful to Chloe and Caroline for the video game system. “It’s a blessing that they’d do something like this for us,” he said.
A truck driver by trade, 51-year-old Bryant said he likes the bowling game the best. “I used to be in a league at Woodleaf Lanes,” he said.
Lonnie Haynes of Granite Quarry, who’s been at The Laurels since Jan. 21, is trying to recover his strength after a bad case of pneumonia left him comatose for 12 days.
When he woke up, 57-year-old Haynes said he had all his mental capabilities, but couldn’t lift a 1-pound weight with his arms. A former firefighter with the Salisbury and Granite Quarry departments, he said his goal is to be home by April 18 to celebrate his 26th wedding anniversary with wife Beverly.
Mary Corpening, 74, of East Spencer had only been in The Laurels for two weeks, but she was also enjoying the Wii Fit games.
“I’m expecting to go home soon,” she said. “I’m doing a lot better.”
Like the other residents, Corpening said she enjoys being at The Laurels. “There couldn’t be no better place,” she said.Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.