January 07, 2011 4:42 PM

Whoever assumes new video game technology is just for the youngest generations has never met the young-at-heart at the Kernodle Senior Center.

These seniors have no problems operating their Nintendo Wii remotes, navigating the buttons and arrows to switch the angles for their digital bowlers. On the first Thursday of every month, they come out to compete in friendly – but fierce – frames of Wii Bowling, sponsored by Home Loving Senior Care.

“(We’re) competitive in a friendly way,” said Frank Stewart, who has been a regular at the monthly event since its beginning about a year and a half ago. “We get to hollering and cutting up with each other.” Though Stewart has been disabled for 16 years, the post-polio syndrome survivor hasn’t let his wheelchair get in the way of his Wii remote.

A good sport, Stewart said he usually plays but when more people show up, he lets them bowl while he offers advice and support. “I sit back here and aggravate them, cheer them on,” he said. Stewart’s wife, Bessie, said she doesn’t bowl as often because of her wrist problems, but enjoys the atmosphere and calls herself the “chief cheerleader.”

Cindy Dhue, a recent retiree, dips low to the ground as she winds up to send her virtual pink ball rolling toward the pins on the screen. She flings the “ball” into the air a good height before letting go, making it drop with a thud on the virtual lane before rolling toward the pins.

Her husband, Wayne, teases her about her style as he bowls a spare, stirring up some healthy competition. “It was just me and my husband last time we were here,” said Cindy, “But we still tried to outdo each other.” She and Wayne call themselves “new senior citizens” since they both recently retired due to health problems, and Cindy said they enjoy the interaction with their fellow bowlers.

Judy Boggs, who owns Home Loving Senior Care with her husband, Bill, said the idea for adding Wii Bowling to their activity sessions stemmed from the family’s game play at home. The Boggses host the bowling at the Graham Recreation Center on the second Thursday of every month, as well as Bingo at both Graham and Kernodle Senior Center locations. Judy creates a newsletter with bowling stats each month to garner competition between the two centers and said sometimes the women and men team up against each other and, “They get kind of rowdy.”

As the room starts filling up with more competitors, a second television and Wii console is wheeled in and Bill Boggs sets up the system. More remotes are passed from person to person and Stewart calls out, “We’ve got some sharks in here today,” as Shirley Wiggins from the Graham Recreation Center bowls six strikes in a row and racks up a score over 200.

Judy Boggs said it’s good to see seniors of all ages and health conditions remain active, which is good for self-esteem as well as back and leg problems. And she may be onto something.

According to a study performed by a 2010 Elon University alumna, “exergaming” systems like the Wii are proven to be beneficial to coordination in the elderly. Sarah Foushee, an exercise science major at Elon, led a study using the Wii Fit to observe the impact it had on balance in seniors. Foushee had seniors from Burlington’s Twin Lakes retirement community use the Wii Fit’s balancing platform and observed improved balance afterwards.

Foushee said that even with regular exercise, “balance decreases with age,” and few people realize balance training can improve their quality of life, especially as they get older. She also said that though the Wii Bowling game wasn’t a part of her study, “Anything working on coordination … can definitely be beneficial,” especially when it’s coupled with group interaction.

So whether it’s balance training with the Wii Fit, or movement and coordination exercises with Wii Bowling, new game technology isn’t just for kids anymore – Grandma may be taking over the remote.

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