Gaming grandma keeps up with the times

July 26, 2007|By JULIA COPLEY

When Pat Hayes began playing video games with her grandchildren, they were thrilled.

When they bought her a Nintendo 64 of her own, she was thrilled.

Having initially begun playing as a way to spend time with her grandkids, Hayes found that she had a whole lot of fun playing the games on her own.

"My girlfriend and I used to sit for hours and play. It was quite a craze for us," said Hayes, 69.

Hayes said that playing video games keeps her reflexes sharp and her mind active.

"You've gotta think quick," said Hayes, who has 16 grandchildren ranging in age from 3 to 24. "It keeps you moving and thinking, a little more active."


She said she enjoys her Nintendo DS and GameCube, but misses the Mario game she played on her N64, which has since gone on to the great game store in the sky.

Hayes, a Finksburg, Md., resident, plays both video games and board games with her grandchildren. Although they routinely beat her, she said, "it makes them happy that I can 'do' technology."

She said she finds playing the games with the kids is a great bonding activity.

Annie Hinkel, a 90-year-old Washington County resident, said she also enjoys the occasional electronic diversion, although she limits herself to computer solitaire.

She plays as a way to relax and unwind from her hefty schedule - she volunteers at five organizations around Washington County. She said playing the game definitely keeps her brain sharp: "Anything you use your brain for does that, keeps you thinking."

Denise Sigler, CTRS, the director of the recreational therapy department at Western Maryland Hospital Center, said she uses electronic and board games in her work every day.

Although much of her work is aimed at restoring functions lost by injuries or illness, such as a stroke, head injury, arthritis and the like, the games' cognitive processing factors can also be put to work maintaining those functions.

"We do 'Family Feud' so they can see it on the big screen TV, to get more people involved," she said. Other games - both electronic and board - that her department uses are Yahtzee, Uno, Sequence, Tetris, Zuma, and Cranium.

Sigler said the games increase socialization for residents, but even patients isolated due to infection can get in on the action.

A caregiver acts as the "hand" for those patients, allowing them to play electronic versions without touching the equipment.

According to an article on brain health at, the brain declines if demands aren't placed upon it.

The brain "requires change, and that change requires that you acquire new skills and abilities, new hobbies, and activities that require the brain to remodel itself," the article says.

Carvel Wright, 72, teaches noncredit computer classes geared specifically toward seniors at Hagerstown Community College. He encourages his students to play computer games, especially the Microsoft-standard solitaire.

"It gives them dexterity practice in using the mouse device," he said. "It's one of the best tools available, as far as fun's concerned."

Video games provide a broad range of challenges, from logical puzzle-solving to fast-paced hand-eye coordination. A new video game platform created by Nintendo, the Wii, even uses physical activity as a way to interact with the game. Holding the Wii's motion-sensitive remote in different positions, the player can use familiar motions to play baseball, tennis, to bowl, or even slash with a sword.

For seniors looking for a more familiar challenge, electronic card games are a tried-and-true staple.

Pat Hayes said she enjoys playing solitaire on the computer just as much as her three-dimensional video games.

"In fact," she said, "I think I've forgotten to play solitaire with cards anymore, I've done it on the computer so much."

For seniors who are a little nervous about venturing into the electronic games world, Hayes recommends letting the grandkids lead.

"Get a game, get something easy, let them walk you through it and then sit and practice, it's not hard."

She pointed out that hand-held games are especially convenient for traveling or for sitting and waiting somewhere, such as a doctor's office.

She recognizes, however, that the technology can be a little overwhelming to the uninitiated. "It's such a difference ... we thought television was fantastic."

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