I have mentioned before that my darling mother had a stroke at the beginning of '07 which was the impetus for us moving out here to be closer to her and my dad. That would make her having just turned 60. Not something we ever expected and yes- it scared the daylights out of all of us. Looking back now- it was a blessing because it forced them to look hard at all factors and we discovered that she has a clotting issue- which we can trace all the way back to multiple miscarriages after we three girls were born and for which she is finally being treated. We were also very fortunate that the physical side effects were minimal. When she woke up she "felt" fine. Physically- she was doing great. Mentally- not so much. At first, she had big holes in her memory. She didn't quite know who my dad was, she remembered 2 of the three of our names and the names of the third's children (we were Julie, Lisa and.....Jon and Lauren's Mom). She remembered that she was supposed to go to Vegas the next day with her sister- but not many, many other things. She could read words- but finding their meaning and having them make sense was very difficult. Linking things was a challenge as well. During therapy if you told her "Put down your book, answer the door, get a glass of ice water" One of those three things would get lost. It was incredibly frustrating to her. She has always been a voracious reader and whip smart and in having this stroke she lost a big part of herself. She has had some personality changes as well but they are slight and only noticable to those of us who know and love her. She has less patience with herself, and sometimes with us and that is the biggest change.
As part of her therapy, they started with children's books and games to teach her to make sense of words and to follow progressions. She was somewhat embarrassed that she was learning to play games that our 5 year old nephew had mastered but it was a process that needed to be followed. She spent quite some time working with occupational therapists to get back some semblance of normalcy and we encouraged her (I even bribed her with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-giving her a goal to be able to sit and read by July when the book came out) in every way we could. When all was said and done, it was only when she was getting tired that she would lose her words on a regular basis and get frustrated, she still had headaches if she tried to read and at times progression instructions were difficult for her.
Then we accidentally hit on a way to keep working on her "therapy" without making it seem like work. Christmas of '06 my niece had asked for Webkinz for Christmas and so I got a couple of them for all of the kids. If you are not familiar with this "toy" it is a series of stuffed animals (and now clothing, accessories, etc) by the Ganz company that come with a code attached. You go online to www.webkinz.com and you adopt your pet. A much more sophisticated and advanced version of the nanopets and gigapets from my son's generation, you sign on to the website each day and feed your pet, take care of them, you play games and earn money to build them a home etc. The best way I can describe it is Beanie Babies meets Gigapets meets the Sims. Mom and Dad went to visit the California kids a few months after her stroke and my sister was taking care of the Webkinz for my niece and Mom was intrigued. My sister showed her how to play some of the games and though they were challenging for her due to the stroke- they were FUN! It was like playing the games from her therapy session but much more interactive and she could do them at her own pace. Before leaving California, Mom got her own Webkinz pet and set up an account and she was on her way.
We are now just about 2 years past the time when Mom discovered Webkinz. Her collection of pets has grown so large that she has begun donating the actual stuffed animals to schools. She has given each of us our own Webkinz and accounts so that we can share this with her. She spends time each day online taking care of her "pets" and playing the games and doing other activities that require her to think and remember. The results have been remarkable. She has built up her stamina for working the games far beyond when she completed formal therapy. She has more patience with herself. She is more willing to keep trying on the things she has difficulty with because each level is more challenging and if you have trouble with it three times- it will take you back down a level until you are ready to move up again. She has regained her confidence in other areas and is even doing Sodoku and crosswords again. There is a built in "reward" system in terms of "prizes" and "kinz cash" and so in spite of the fact that she is working her brain- it is a game and fun, not "work." I can honestly say- most of the time now it is as if she never had the stroke at all. Her doctor has noticed the progress as well and I have told her that she should recommend it to her doctor for other stroke patients as well.
Just as some physical therapists use the Wii with their patients (I am a BIG fan and both my parents and I have one) it might not be a bad thing for OT's to use something like Webkinz to challenge their patients as well. Even if it never catches on- I will be eternally grateful for what it has given to my mom.