Posts Tagged seniors
U of A researcher developing personalized program that brings the appeal of electronic gaming to physical therapy for older adults.
By BEV BETKOWSKI
A high-tech University of Alberta research project is letting seniors hit a computerized gym especially designed for their needs.
VirtualGym, an electronic game that combines the entertainment of gaming with prescribed exercises, is being put through its paces in a Calgary seniors’ residence to test its user-friendliness and appeal.
Once perfected, it will deliver at-home therapeutic exercises for seniors with chronic health issues, mobility problems or dementia, at the click of a button.
“It’s a concept of bringing rehabilitation home,” said PhD candidate Noelannah Neubauer, who helped design the program. “We already have telehealth being used by doctors, why not rehabilitation too?”
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The joint research project is teaming computing scientist Eleni Stroulia and other researchers from the faculties of science and rehabilitation medicine, with support from AGE-WELL, Canada’s Technology and Aging Network.
Designed to work through Kinect, a motion sensor system originally designed for Xbox video game consoles, VirtualGym works by giving users personalized feedback as they exercise along with an onscreen avatar using a “Simon Says” theme.
“It’s designed so the exercises are completely customizable from a personal trainer or physical therapist and their progress can be monitored,” Neubauer said. By recording users’ movements through VirtualGym, therapists can remotely watch for progressions and adjust exercises accordingly.
Stroulia and her team thought their original version of VirtualGym, developed in 2015, would be a good fit for seniors, but it was a flop with their test group, who found the game too busy.
“They didn’t like it at all,” said Victor Fernandez-Cervantes, a post-doctoral researcher in computing science, who took it back to the drawing board.
Using feedback from Edmonton senior Stuart Embleton and other volunteers from the Cardiac Athletic Society of Edmonton who tried the system, Fernandez-Cervantes made VirtualGym more user-friendly.
“We wanted to design it from their point of view.”
He dialled down the noise with a less distracting and cartoonish version of the game. The screen scenery evolved from its original version—an instructional avatar exercising on snowy ground in front of a brick building—to a soothing blank-walled room with a potted plant at either side. The avatar’s build was also adjusted to reflect a more typical body shape for older adults. As well, he programmed its movements with simple but specific instructions on how to do an exercise properly, complete with correctional tools like arrows and colours that pop up if needed.
Fernandez-Cervantes is continuing to tweak VirtualGym to create a 3-D version. Right now the exercises are only partially viewable, which is a problem for seniors, Embleton believes. “If the program wants you to lift your leg and kick your foot up, you should be able to see that action from a suitable perspective,” he explained.
Other planned improvements include adding simple games to measure cognitive awareness for users. “Over time, perhaps changes in scores could reflect varying levels of cognitive impairment,” Neubauer said.
The eventual plan is to market VirtualGym widely through a spinoff company, Stroulia said.
Embleton, 77, believes seniors would use VirtualGym if it were available to them.
“Most seniors nowadays have computers and TV sets, and that, plus an optical input, is all you need to use the system. It’s going to be more and more useful as it’s further developed. It’s called a game, but it’s really a useful therapeutic process. If I had a broken hip or was frail or couldn’t drive, and needed some physical therapy, I could use a virtual gym at home,” he said.
That’s especially valuable for rural or shut-in seniors who can’t go to real-life gym classes or make regular visits to physiotherapy clinics, said Neubauer.
“We want seniors to be able to exercise more, and this provides another option for them.”
Their work on VirtualGym also offers insight and a set of guidelines for other game designers wanting to develop exercise technology for seniors, said Fernandez-Cervantes.
“When designing products, seniors need to be involved. Soon enough, everyone will be a senior.”
News flash — we’re all human, everyone ages, many people are already disabled or will become disabled at some point in their life, and most people want to feel happy and healthy in their lives.
Not Enough Exercise
Exercising for at least 30 minutes a day is linked to better physical and emotional health. With a third of adults aged 50 and up and 47% of people with disabilities ages 18 to 64 not getting enough exercise, there has to be something to get them moving and enjoying life to the fullest.
Seniors and people with disabilities are sometimes limited to what exercises they can do. Adaptive equipment like a wheelchair, walker, or cane are supposed to improve mobility but can become a hindrance to exercise for many. People with physical limitations may not even be able to stand, walk, or leave their bed due to medical reasons.
So what’s the solution? How do we get seniors and people who are disabled more access to activity and increase their wellbeing? The answer is virtual reality. VR allows anyone to put on a headset, pick a game that’s standing or sitting, and enjoy the combined benefits of physical and mental activity.
Getting cardio doesn’t have to mean going for a run or jog anymore, you can still get a workout and reap all the heart-healthy benefits from playing a VR game.
Rec Room is best played with a group of people because you’ll be playing games like paintball. The game won’t be too intense, you’re free to sit or stand while playing, and it will feel like the exercise equivalent to walking.
There’s also a faster paced drumming VR game called Music Inside: A VR Rhythm Game that can be played standing or sitting as you use your upper body to hit the drum to the beat and your core and lower body to stabilize.
VR Strength Training
Fruit Ninja is a great standing game that has you using the VR controllers as a machete to slice and dice fruit. You’ll be using your upper body to reach and slice fruit, your mid-body to reach towards different directions, and your lower body to position your body and to move frequently. This VR game is rated by the VR Health Institute as being an equal workout compared to using an elliptical.
Please note: If you have a strong upper body or lower body and want a challenge you can always add hand weights or ankle weights to boost the difficulty level. Please consult a trainer or doctor before adding weights to your exercise plan.
VR Flexibility for Mind and Body
Exercising your body while also using your mind can help promote happiness, lower stress, improve memory, and flexible thinking skills.
Everyone experiences stress, so playing games like Wise Mind is a great way for everyone to unwind from a long day or start the day off with a clear and calm mind. Wise Mind has you practicing Tai Chi, balancing stones, and gives you mindfulness and meditation exercises to choose from. Tai Chi is great for a low impact and low-stress exercise that can be done seated or standing. Balancing stones is great for hand-eye coordination practice as well as promoting patience and understanding with yourself and others. While the meditation and mindfulness activities will keep your mind clear and resilient.
Stretching muscles helps to prevent muscle atrophy, improve range of motion and flexibility, reduces injuries, and increases pain relief.
VR apps like Yoga Joint VR Experience are great for getting a slow to advanced paced stretch while also building muscle strength and tone. Yoga involves you using your own strength to hold poses using your own body weight. Many yoga poses can be modified to suit needs based on injuries and physical limitations. Some yoga stretches can even be modified while sitting in a chair or wheelchair.
VR Helps Everyone Get Healthy
Getting exercise, stretching, and being mindful using VR will improve your physical health but it will also make you feel happier overall. Getting VR headsets and games in the hands of the people who will benefit from using it the most is essential. Helping the disabled and the elderly gain access to VR helps them break through old limitations that used to hold them back.
Using VR to exercise and experience new ideas, environments, and people drastically improves the quality of people’s lives. So let’s do something about it — tell your neighbors, friends, coworkers, and family members about the physical and mental health benefits of VR.
[WEB SITE] Silver Linings: Remote rehab – Telehealth helps seniors recover in rural areas – New Hampshire
Melly said the use of Jintronix at the New Jewish Home has resulted in a 60 percent reduction in rehospitalizations of these patients.
“The more engaged the patient is, the better their outcome is,” Melly said.
At the center, Melly said you will see others in the rehabilitation room or patient’s families gather around to cheer on the patient as they go for soccer goals or reach the pinnacle of a rock climb.
“How much fun is that?” she said.
On this day, Brown scored a 6 out of 6 in soccer and 5 out of 6 in skiing. When he leaves the facility, Brown said he plans on buying a Wii videogame console to keep up with his therapy.
“It’s something I can do at home,” he said.
Evin said Jintronix is actually safer than a Wii for people like Brown because the program is tailored to the patient and the patient’s progress is monitored by their health team and tracked.
Bartels said there is “a lot of activity” in the field of telerehabilitation and there are other similar programs in development. He points to the future in sensors.
At Northeastern University, researchers are studying the use of sensors in ceilings to track a person’s movement, their gait, and their level of exercise. He said a person’s gait tells a lot about a person’s health. He said it’s one thing to watch a person walk across the room once for the doctor – it’s another thing to watch a person walk 50 times back and forth a day between the bedroom and the kitchen.
“A slower gait may mean an infection or something with medication and side effects or they’re depressed,” Bartels said.
At the Dartmouth Institute they are using sensors to monitor overweight elders.
Melly said she expects the New Jewish Home to be using more of this type of technology in the future.
“It’s the case of technology finally catching up with the medical needs,” she said.
Silver Linings is a continuing Union Leader/Sunday news report focusing on the issues of New Hampshire’s aging population and seeking out solutions. Union Leader reporter Gretchen Grosky would like to hear from readers about issues related to aging. She can be reached at email@example.com or (603) 206-7739. See more at www.unionleader.com/aging.