At-home exercise games can prevent falls in older people living in the community, according to a research trial.
Conducted by Neuroscience Research Australia, the trial involved individuals aged 65-plus participating in a balance challenging exergame – smart+step – for 120 minutes a week. Invented by NeuRA and connected to a television screen, smart+step requires the player to mirror the screen image by stepping on the corresponding target on a mat.
At the end of the 12-month trial, the NeuRA researchers found the gamers recorded significantly fewer falls (163) compared to a control group (231) who only received a falls prevention pamphlet.
“It was really encouraging to see that smart+step – an exergaming console that anyone can enjoy at home completely unassisted from a therapist – brought a benefit to older people by preventing falls,” said Dr Daina Sturnieks – lead author of the study and senior research scientist at NeuRA and UNSW Sydney.
One-in-three people over the age of 65 living in the community will experience a fall every year. With an ageing population, effective fall prevention strategies are needed to address the growing impact of falls in the community, said Dr Sturnieks.
“We’ve known for some time that, if done correctly and consistently, balance challenging exercises can prevent falls. But the problem is that often people don’t keep up with their exercises because they can get boring very quickly.”
This prompted Dr Sturnieks and her team at NeuRA’s Falls, Balance and Injury Research Centre to explore gamifying balance exercises. “People get addicted to games because they’re fun and they become motivated to beat their high score and just get lost in the game,” said Dr Sturnieks.
The results of the trial are published in Nature Medicine. The NeuRA team is in the early stages of commercialising smart+step.
Exergames such as smart+step provide more than physical benefits, said Dr Sturnieks. “Exergames are like a two-in-one: you get the physical benefits but also you are keeping yourself cognitively challenged, which is good for the brain and healthy ageing. Plus, it’s fun!”