A team of Manchester researchers and clinicians has developed three movement-based computer games for elderly people to reduce their likelihood of falls in the home.
The games use the Microsoft Kinect sensor to monitor a person’s body movements as they perform a range of physical exercises designed to help build strength and prevent falls.
The games have been developed by a team from the Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Manchester, using the Mira Rehab software platform.
They include a range of game-related movements, such as squatting to control the movement of objects on a TV or computer screen.
The games can be programmed to a patient’s ability following an initial assessment, with clinicians able to tailor the software to suit their levels of fatigue, pain and fear of falling.
Dr Emma Stanmore, a nursing lecturer at the University of Manchester, told EHI she had been working on falls prevention research for some time and had a long-held interest in using computer games to assist the elderly.
“When Microsoft Kinect first came out with all the potential to track body movements, I looked to do something off the shelf – but it wasn't geared up for the elderly because it moved too fast or had young avatars.”
Stanmore said the team from the university and the trust came together to incorporate the “wealth of research” about exercises that elderly people can do to prevent falls into a computer game.
She said the games can provide a substitute for physiotherapists with a format that elderly people can enjoy.
“It’s supposed to be fun: if you enjoy something you forget you’re doing it, and a lot of the exercises can normally be boring because you’re doing the same repetitive motion.”
Focus groups and research have shown that while elderly people are slower to adapt to new technologies, they are willing to embrace them once they are shown how to use them, Stanmore said.
“It’s a bit of a myth that old people don’t use technology, because the data shows that they use smart phones, the internet… a lot of people are up for it.”
Data from the computer games, such as how long they are played for and how frequently they are used, is fed back to clinicians so they are updated on patients’ progress and can make changes if necessary.
Stanmore said the games are currently being used by Central Manchester’s Trafford community services team and at Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust’s outpatient rehabilitation team.
Over 50 patients have given feedback on the games, with “really positive feedback” coming from most.
The games are currently only being used in a clinical setting, but the team is hoping to get ethics approval to trial the games in a community setting to ensure patients adhere to their exercise regimes and act as an “early alert system” for clinicians.
Stanmore said the team also wants to develop more games with exercises for specific diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
The first phase of development and testing for the project was funded by Central Manchester’s Charitable Funds for Innovation and The University of Manchester, while it was also supported by Manchester Integrating Medicine and Innovative Technology and Trustech.