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Bringing the fun factor
Stephen Lord and Kim
Delbaere discuss how
traditional video games like
Tetris and Word Scramble are
being used to prevent falls.
While we know that balance training can prevent
falls in older people, long-term participation in
these types of exercise programs can be poor due
to the often boring nature of repetitive exercises.
At the falls and balance group at
Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA), we have recently
focussed on finding solutions to help older people complete the
necessary exercises for them to stay independent.
This work has led to the development of novel technology-based
solutions. Some examples are the SureStep stepping-based exercise
program using a dance mat linked to the home's television, the
Standing Tall home-based exercise program using an Apple iPad
app, and the iStoppFalls exercise program using a television.
By using these technologies, we hope to provide a more
convenient way to inform and guide people towards effective
exercises for preventing falls.
As part of this, Daniel Schoene, a PhD student at NeuRA, has
conducted a series of studies that show the SureStep technology
is a valuable tool for fall risk assessment and an excellent means
of improving balance and coordinated stepping.
We hope that SureStep will provide people with an exercise
program, easily integrated into daily life. The system is simply
installed into homes and can reliably assess stepping ability.
It involves low-cost computerised training activities that are
enjoyable for older adults and incorporate crucial balance-
challenging exercises that involve accurate and appropriately
Results from two pilot trials indicate that step training can be
safely undertaken at home to improve key physical and mental
parameters of fall risk in older people.
One major advantage of combining exercise training and
video games is the possibility of increasing their complexity,
interest and enjoyment by adding challenging mental tasks.
Since conducting these pilot trials, we have developed new step
training games modified from engaging video games traditionally
played with the hands while seated; Tetris, Pacman, Word
Scramble, Jigsaw Puzzle, Bejewelled, Pong and Space Invaders,
to name a few.
In collaboration with students from Qantm College, we have also
created a balance training game that involves navigating through a
Greek village while avoiding obstacles and finding treasures.
Our next step is to conduct a randomised controlled trial to
determine the effects of a home-based step training program
on fall risk in older people. We will also provide people with
unobtrusive, continuous monitoring of their activity levels
and balance abilities, using state-of-the-art technologies in
collaboration with the technology company Philips. This will
enable people to keep track of their progress and to manage
their risk of falling. We anticipate this project will conclusively
demonstrate that interactive step training has good participation
and is effective in preventing falls in the wider community.
Following on from our trial, which we envisage will take three
years, we aim to make this new technology generally available for
people to use in their homes. n
Professor Stephen Lord is an applied physiologist working in the
areas of balance assessment and fall and fracture prevention.
Dr Kim Delbaere is working with older adults both in a clinical
setting and at home. For more information on NeuRA, go to:
Dr Kim Delbaere
48 | MARCH -- APRIL 2014 | AAA
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