Forget knitting, bridge and bingo. Residents at the Amity nursing home in Greenacre are hooked on a new pastime: Nintendo Wii.
Between meals and fall-management classes, they converge on the entertainment room to do battle in a variety of virtual sports including tennis, bowling and golf.
But it is not just fun and games – nursing homes around the country are incorporating video games into their activities programs as a way of keeping residents both mentally and physically stimulated.
Clutching the Wii’s motion-sensitive controller, the gaming grans swipe at the air as if they are holding a real racquet, bowling ball or golf club. Their movements are translated into actions in the game.
One resident, Helena Knight, 70, said the Wii tennis game – which she calls "ping pong" – is her favourite. "I’m actually not much of a games person at all, but this one kept me in my seat," she said.
"I’ve seen everybody that’s here, and some of them are pretty elderly, all having a go."
Toni Doherty, the home’s aged-care services manager, said: "They’re having so much fun they don’t even realise the exercise and stimulation they get from it."
Not all 141 residents are fit to play, she said, but the younger ones find the Wii incredibly simple to pick up, unlike more traditional games consoles.
"We’ve got a special behaviour-management program for the younger residents at night, so we’re going to start an evening games that would see them playing the Wii machines, and they’d have nibbles and drinks – more like a party," Ms Doherty said.
At the Bribie Island Retirement Village in Queensland, competition in the Wii bowling game is fierce.
"We run a tournament, we have trophies, we have a league that’s run on Wednesdays and we have a social bowl on Monday, which is much less stressful," said the director of nursing, Stewart Brumm.
In the Shire of Yarra Ranges in Melbourne, children at the Tecoma primary school teach groups of up to 12 of the shire’s elderly residents how to play the Nintendo DS, a portable hand-held games machine.
The game of choice is Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training, which aims to give the brain a workout through various puzzles including maths problems and word memory tests. Many health experts say it wards off Alzheimer’s disease.
"Absolutely everybody embraced the program and it has grown like topsy," said Meg Johnstone, the shire’s co-ordinator of positive ageing.
Professor Tony Broe, a gerontologist and senior research officer at the Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute, said video games would, for the most part, only be of value to low-care patients, but "used in balance and moderation, this is yet another tool that engages the brain and keeps it active".