At Home Everyday Gear Games/Recreation Nursing Home

Simple Remote Controls for TV

Six Button Remote ControlSeveral years ago my in-laws needed a simple remote control for my husband’s grandmother. I told them about this one, which has just six buttons — the power button, a mute button, and the four critical ones: channel up, channel down, volume up and volume down. The large buttons, and the simplicity of the thing made it a logical choice. It runs about fifteen dollars. (Dynamic Living does note on their website that this remote won’t work with cable or satellite boxes, and that it may not work with newer TVs — information you may want for any remote you buy. It won’t matter much if you’re using an older, familiar TV, though.)

At Home Games/Recreation Gifts Good Stuff Kids Nursing Home

Engaging Hand-Held Game for One or More

Big Screen 20QOver the holidays, we bought a hand-held game called 20Q thinking that it might be entertaining for everyone if the family was visiting, and we couldn’t get out due to weather. The idea is simple — you think of an object — an apple, a bicycle, a brick — and the game asks you 20 questions in an attempt to figure out what it is. Using artificial intelligence technology, 20Q interprets your answers, guessing right a surprising amount of the time. (OK, almost all the time.) We were pretty cocky to begin with, but 20Q has a lot of personality, and didn’t mind humbling us one bit. The thing’s sassy — it taunts you as you play!

The beauty of it is that you don’t need any prior knowledge to play. You just need to know the names of objects, and to have the ability to answer relatively simple questions. The trickiest of the questions are along the lines of “is it a mammal?” In our experience, even if you don’t know an answer, though, the game goes on just fine.

Ours was the pocket version. Because it was so small and round, I thought my dad might have trouble holding it and using the buttons — and he did, a little. But he was too involved to mind much.

Naturally, we went out and picked up the big screen version so Dad could have it at the nursing home. It’s rectangular and easier to hold, and the buttons are also further apart and simpler to use.

When we first played the game with the family over the holidays, we read the questions out loud and answered them together. It was noisy and a lot of fun, with a lot of laughing. But even when my dad played the game by himself, 20Q seemed almost social — he’s interacting, not just reading the questions. And it’s addictive . . . the day we gave the big screen version to him, he hustled us on our way, and headed back to his room so he could play more! It’s gotten increasingly difficult to get him engaged with new things, so it was a treat to see how he took to this neat little toy.

The game is battery-powered and has several options for answers: yes, no, sometimes, rarely. There’s a backlight on the pocket version to make the text more readable. The big screen version doesn’t have the backlight, but the text is quite clear if you just change the angle when you’re holding it.

The text is surprisingly large — it scrolls, and you can slow it down or speed it up on either version. We were able to set the big screen version so that Dad had no trouble reading the questions, even though he’s not at all used to electronic games.

For the right nursing home or assisted living resident, this could be a fine independent activity. Anyone confined to bed or inactivity (however temporarily) could do worse than while away the boring hours tussling with this ‘intelligent’ little device. It could also be just the thing when conversation lags during hours spent in waiting rooms, or when hospital visits threaten to become stultifying.

Beware — it’s very competitive, and you’ll really need to stump it. Dad loves knowing that he might get the upper hand . . . next time! Even when you can’t win, it’s amazing and amusing to be awed by this clever little box.

Recommended for ages 8 and up. Available just about everywhere you find toys (except around Christmas time, when we couldn’t find it locally at all), and at (which sold out at Christmas). The pocket version is available in a slew of languages, but you may have to order online to get those.

Games/Recreation Gifts Kids

Arm-Powered Toy Car

PlasmaCarHere in the USA we love our vehicles. Maybe we take it to an extreme, but to lust for wheels seems so . . . human. For those among us too young to drive, or for whom bikes are not a possibility, may I present the PlasmaCar? No pedals, no batteries, no fuel, no pollution, and it looks like an utter blast. It’s arm-propelled — make it go by turning the steering wheel back and forth. Use it in the living room, the basement, or take it to the park. Look at those lines — could aerobic exercise get any cooler?

U Silly Goose carries it online, and has a nice succinct description of it. Prepare to share — the weight limit is 220 lbs. on a flat surface, 120 lbs on a rough surface — weight, not age, is the only limitation here!

There’s a video of PlasmaCars in action on the PlasmaCar homepage, and a link to a Discovery Channel physicist explaining centrifigal force and how it works. You can read many glowing customer comments on the site, too, but comments aren’t moderated and there’s a ton of spam, too, some of it not exactly family-friendly.

At Home Games/Recreation Kids

Video Game Therapy for Cerebral Palsy

An engineering student at the University of Toronto has designed a computer game for children with hemiplegic cerebral palsy. The purpose of the game is to get kids to engage the weaker side of their bodies. According to this article, kids use their stronger arm to hold a button under a chair, and then use the weaker one like a joystick to play the game.

The idea, of course, is to strength muscles and develop full potential, but a big plus is that this is therapy that can be done at home — and it’s meant to be entertaining. Motivation is everything in all kinds of therapy, and play-as-therapy is one good hook.

No reviews from kids yet . . . but the concept is very exciting. And strange — can’t you hear it now? “OK, kiddo, get that nose out of your book and over to that video console . . .”