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27th November 2014

New computer games could lower risk of OAPs falling

A series of computer games could help prevent OAPs from falling at home and in the community, according to the Manchester researchers who developed them
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An elderly person probably wouldn’t come to mind if you were asked to describe a typical computer games user.

However, a new series of interactive fitness games developed in Manchester is aimed specifically at OAPs, with the intention of preventing them from falling.

The team from Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (CMFT) and the University of Manchester designed the games in collaboration with MIRA Rehab Limited, which were tested by Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust’s Falls Prevention Team and its patients.

The games, which are known as Exergames, use the Microsoft Kinect sensor to monitor body movements. They can be tailored to an individual’s needs and abilities by taking into account fatigue, pain and fear of falling.

The software includes activities such as squatting to control the movement of objects on a TV or computer screen. By logging statistics such as the duration of gameplay and how frequently it is used, it can provide clinicians with reports on how their patients are progressing.

Falls are notoriously common among OAPs. One third of people over the age of 65 will suffer one. This figure increases with age, rising to roughly 50 per cent for people over 85.

In many cases, the repercussions can be severe. Falls often result in severe injuries that can lead to hospitalisation and, in some tragic cases, even death. A serious fall is often used as justification for moving an elderly person into a care home.

Engaging in physical activity can reduce the risk of falling by 40 per cent, but unsurprisingly, many elderly people find it difficult to maintain sufficient activity levels.

This was the major motive behind the development of the games. Since so many OAPs lack the ability or desire to stay active, a more engaging method of encouraging exercise was required.

Dr Emma Stanmore, a Lecturer in Nursing at the University of Manchester, said, “We spoke to a lot of older people and physiotherapists before creating the games because it was really important that what we produced was easy to use and made keeping fit as fun as possible for the target audience.

“Many individuals over the age of 65 haven’t played computer games before, but those who have been helping us test the technology have given us very positive feedback.”

Currently, only patients under the care of Trafford Community Services are able to use Exergames, although it is hoped that they will eventually be introduced across the country.

Dr Jay Chillala, Consultant in Elderly Health at the Trafford Division of CMFT, said, “It’s a very cost-effective device for the NHS so we hope that if the Exergames are rolled out across the UK, patients will be able to take it home and play it with their grandchildren.”

The Exergames currently include three games and four exercises such as leg lifts and squats. They were developed with the help of healthcare professionals.

Debra Maloney, Trafford Intermediate Care Team Leader at Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust, said, “Physiotherapists from our outpatient rehabilitation team have been helping to develop Exergames by advising on the exercises included in the programme and some patients from one of our exercise groups have played a valuable role by giving feedback on demo versions of the games.

“It’s been fantastic to be part of a project that really is at the cutting edge of falls prevention and will make a huge difference to older people.”

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