Seniors get back in the groove with a video game that's right up their alley

Sam Eichhorn gets a little help with the control from Melissa Young, assistant activity director, during a Wii bowling tournament Friday,  Jan. 30, at Markle Health & Rehabilitation.
Photo by Judy Fitzmaurice.

Originally published Feb. 5, 2009.

The sound of the heavy ball rolling down the lane, the crash as it hits the pins. This may sound like a familiar scenario, but it isn't quite what it seems.

Instead of a traditional bowling alley, the scene is an area nursing home and some of the residents are locked in an intense game of Wii bowling. With participants and spectators gathered together in a comfortable social room at Markle Health & Rehabilitation, all eyes are glued on the television as the first bowler takes her place center stage, so to speak.

Holding the Wii control in her right hand, Carolyn Hollenback moves her arm in a back-ward motion - just as she would if she was holding a real bowling ball - then swings it forward in a smooth, fluid motion and lets go at the perfect moment. The crowd erupts in cheers as Hollenback surprises even herself by rolling strikes with both her first and sec-ond balls.

"Carolyn's already stomping booty," exclaims Melissa Young, assistant activity director at Markle Health & Rehabilitation.

Hollenback continues until she has rolled all 10 of her balls while playing in the training mode of the Wii bowling game. She earned a score of 450 points. In the training mode participants have the opportunity to earn higher scores than they would playing a conventional game of bowling as additional pins crowd the end of the alley.

"It keeps multiplying, adding pins each ball," Young says.

Strikes provide the opportunity for even greater gains, up to a maximum of 91 pins, she notes.

Next up is Sam Eichhorn, who is able to compete at the same level as other players even though he bowls while seated in a wheelchair. While he had a little trouble "dropping" the ball, he eventually rolled a strike and went on to earn a score of 371. Pat Brickley, who bowled third, edged past Eichhorn with a score of 391.

Wii came to Markle Health & Rehabilitation through a donation made by an employee.

"I won the Wii at the company Christmas party," explains Sandy Kinsey, director of nursing. "We already have one at home, so I gave it to the facility. It's so good for them (the residents)."

In addition to bowling, the Wii game cartridge also includes tennis, baseball, boxing and golf.

"They really enjoy the bowling," Young says.

Anyone who has played the interactive game knows first-hand what can happen if you overdo it.

"We started out playing every day," says Sherrie Richardson, executive director of the facility. But when staff started hearing residents complain of aching arms, they knew they had better scale back. "Now it's every other day."

As a final test for Hollenback, Young encouraged her to try her luck at bowling with the opposite hand.

"Now try it left-handed," she told her. "It'll be a challenge."

At first declining the offer, Hollenback finally succumbed to the pressure and said she'd give it a try. She fumbled the control a little during her first couple of tries, but then managed to get a strike. Her score climbed as the pins continued to drop and a bit of a smile worked its way across her face. Her final score, playing left-handed, was 496.

"I did better with my other hand," she exclaimed.

"Good job Carolyn - you're a pro," Young told Hollenback, handing her a T-shirt as a prize. "You guys are all really awesome."