Exergaming and Fall Prevention

27 - 08 - 2012

Exergaming and Fall Prevention

Exergaming and balance control

Fall prevention and improvement of gait coordination and the overall perception-motor system are important issues for seniors. Slips, trips and falls carry a much bigger risk for the elderly than they do for younger adults and they are much more frequent among senior population because older people have a slower response time and cannot regain their balance as easily when they slip. Fall prevention and balance control are very strong motivating factors for many older adults who decide to take up exercise.

The enjoyment factor and balance exercise that iDANCE and similar active indoor games provide make these games among the most popular activities among older adults, both as part of senior exercise programs and on their own, as party games. By incorporating an aerobic workout and a fun social activity, exergaming can contribute to physical, mental and social wellbeing in seniors.

Fall risk prevention

The ability to walk is affected by the process of aging. Whether it is the speed, energy expenditure or stability that is affected the most, deteriorating physical fitness always carries the risk of injury. Exercise programs can help optimize each of these elements, most significantly balance and motor control, and the element of entertainment that is inherent to exergaming can help motivate seniors to stick with the exercise regime. On top of that, the video game aspect of active games is known to improve attention and reaction time, both of which are affected by aging and can be major risk factors in the elderly.

Statistics reveal that between 33 and 50 percent of people over the age of 65 experience a fall each year, sometimes with fatal consequences. Even when the outcome is not fatal, fall related injuries can have a devastating effect on seniors, both physically and emotionally, and the number of fall prevention programs and measures has significantly increased in recent years, as has the number of fall prevention products and exercise equipment for the elderly.

Dance games and exergaming in general can address a number of problems that accompany the process of aging, such as the deteriorating coordination dynamics and balance control. They can also improve perceptual-motor control and gait stability as well as the overall fitness level in the elderly. This is why active games are becoming so widespread in institutions that provide care for seniors – nursing homes, hospitals, geriatric departments – and why some of them are designed specifically to facilitate exercise that helps prevent falls.

Consequences of fall related injuries

The decline in physical function resulting from a fall related injury does not only affect health, but also strikes a blow to seniors' self-confidence and can result in a decline of social interactions and involvement in the community around them. This can also often be a problem with seniors who are not in good health or do not get a regular dose of exercise. The lack of confidence in their body and fear of a major injury can lead them to withdraw from social life, or decide to lose their independence too soon and move into a nursing home or a similar environment for supported living. Reclusion from social life and loss of independence does not only affect a person's quality of life, but can also have a major effect on their state of mind. For this reason, both fall related injuries and fear of injury itself frequently lead to depression.

Active games for seniors

The downside of most fall prevention and balance training programs is that they are set in clinical environments and use equipment that most people cannot afford. Exergames can be incredibly helpful to older adults in this respect because they provide them with a commercially available video gaming technology with undeniable health benefits, one that can be used in their own home. These benefits include balance improvement, increased motivation, and better postural control and task performance. Unlike traditional exercise and rehabilitation programs, active games are more enjoyable and engaging, which contributes to long-term adherence to the exercise programs, and they do not require a trip to the hospital, clinic or nursing home. This makes them an excellent alternative solution for seniors who do not get enough exercise, one that is both accessible and provides the same benefits.

Studies on exergaming and balance improvement

A study of the effects of virtual video gaming in rehabilitation was conducted in 2011 using the Nintendo Wii Fit Balance Board in a six week exercise program designed to improve dynamic balance in seniors and to measure their Balance Confidence Scale and Geriatric Depression Scale. Subjects were aged 60 to 95. The results showed a significant improvement in confidence, postural stability and balance in seniors who used the Balance Board. Neither the intervention group nor the control group showed a significant change on the depression scale, and both had results that were within normal range.

Another study of Wii Fit involved seven adults aged 84 who had scored under 52 points on the Berg Balance Scale. They were asked to play four active games for at least 30 minutes three times a week for three months. After three months, the participants reported better balance with daily activities, and their Berg Balance scores increased from 49 to 53 on average. Their walking speed also improved, from 1.04 to 1.33 m/s.

Active games were also tested in a Calgary elementary school and research results showed an improvement in balance in children by up to 30 percent. Traditional physical education, on the other hand, had a negligible effect on balance.

These days, the use of active games is also being explored in recovery and rehabilitation programs, especially those addressing the loss of functional independence after stroke or fall related injuries. Rehabilitational use of active indoor games does not stop at the elderly. Exergaming is also used to improve static balance in children with Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD), a motor skills disorder characterized by balance deficiency.

Exercise and health

Exercise is vital to good health, both physical and mental, and is particularly important in postponing a number of adverse effects of aging by improving cognitive, motor and sensory abilities as well as the overall fitness level and ability to perform everyday tasks. Seniors are among the least physically active groups in society, and lack of physical activity, even when the reason for it seems justified, can only be detrimental to health. This is why it is particularly important for seniors to stay active. Yet because they often suffer from mobility problems, they lack the confidence and motivation for exercise and usually choose to stay at home instead of participating in organized activities at day care centres and similar institutions. For this reason, a growing number of active video games are designed to address exercise needs of middle aged and older adults, and offer a wide range of activities, each with its own unique set of benefits: muscle strenghtening, aerobic workouts, dancing, stretching games, martial arts, bowling, and so on.

Dance games can increase physical activity and, because they are suited to people of all ages regardless of fitness level, they can be vital to reducing the time seniors spend being sedentary. Because they are not as demanding as traditional forms of exercise, iDANCE and other exergames provide an excellent solution for seniors to stay in shape and retain a good quality of life well into their advanced years.

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