12 March 2012

Exer-gaming - a new approach to rehabilitation

Colchester Campus

Researchers at the University of Essex have found that the Nintendo Wii Fit can prove an effective method of helping improve the mobility of elderly people who are recurrent fallers.

The research, published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society, found that recurrent fallers not only found the Wii fun to use, but they improved their flexibility and functional mobility after using it, compared to patients who did not.

There have already been studies highlighting how the Wii can aid rehabilitation, but this project was the first of its kind to establish the effectiveness of the Wii by incorporating it into an established clinical physiotherapy programme.

The project, which was jointly funded by the University and Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust, monitored patients who were taking part in a seven-week falls prevention exercise group at Colchester General Hospital, which in addition to improving strength and balance, helps recurrent fallers learn techniques to help them fall less and also how to get up if they do fall.

The study has shown that even a short duration of Wii play can provide an effective additional method to support standard rehabilitation methods, however, a ‘Wii-only’ approach is not being recommended.

Rebecca Impson, Physiotherapist for Older People at Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust said: “It’s very exciting to be able to utilise technology to enable older people to have fun and enjoy new challenges whilst improving balance reactions and reducing risk of falls.”

With recurrent fallers costing the NHS nearly £1.7 billion every year in terms of inpatient admissions and long-term care costs, it is a real health issue.

There are a number of reasons why some elderly people fall – from frailty and lack of confidence to lack of practice moving about and other mobility issues. However, the knock-on effect can lead to them feeling anxious and less likely to move about, which can have a negative effect on their quality of life and lead to low mood/depression.

The research has been a springboard for a wide range of ‘exer-gaming’ projects led by Dr Murray Griffin and Dr Matthew Taylor, from the University’s School of Biological Sciences.

Dr Griffin said looking deeper into the benefits of ‘exer-gaming’ for all sections of the population was an obvious one. “Fallers are most concerned about their quality of life. Developing an intervention that improves this, is clearly very valuable,” he added.

“Our initial research has given one answer but added 100 questions to the possible benefits of ‘exer-gaming’ so this is an interesting area for us to look at further,” added Dr Taylor.

Dr Teshk Shawis, Consultant Physician for care of the elderly, believes that this exciting finding and the other research currently underway between the Trust and the University will lead to noticeable changes in how to prevent falls in the elderly in future.

One project in the pipeline is to work with scientists in the University’s School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering to develop a bespoke training programme for fallers using the Xbox Kinect. The project has already received interest from Microsoft and the researchers are now looking for a grant to fund the research.

End

For further information or to interview Dr Murray Griffin or Dr Matthew Taylor, please contact the University of Essex Communications Office on 01206 872400 or e-mail comms@essex.ac.uk

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