Getting senior citizens engaged in their health care isn’t always an easy task, especially with those who are suffering from chronic conditions. So far the Exergamers Wellness Club has excelled at it, combining fun and technology to get seniors more engaged in monitoring and improving their health.
Exergamers is based on a comprehensive health-and-wellness program developed by Partners in Care Foundation, but it brings Microsoft Kinect for Xbox 360 and Microsoft HealthVault into the picture, to give seniors a set of tools they can use to get fit and keep track of their progress. The program was unveiled earlier this month at the St. Barnabas Senior Center, Multipurpose Center in Los Angeles with a flash mob of dancing seniors.
The club is a public-private partnership between Microsoft, the Los Angeles Department of Aging, Partners in Care Foundation and St. Barnabas Senior Services, a non-profit organization that operates a popular senior center in Los Angeles.
Club members use Microsoft Kinect to make exercise fun, competing in virtual bowling tournaments with seniors in other cities, and dancing along to hip-hop, disco and salsa routines. The games keep them moving and give them an outlet for social activity, which helps to improve overall health. Then they can keep track of their health and fitness levels using Microsoft HealthVault.
If all this technology in the hands of the elderly gives you visions of oldmansearch, rest assured it was not put there without some training first. During a pilot for the program, seniors — some who had never worked with a computer before — were given basic computer literacy skills, said Brenda M. Vazquez, program director for disease prevention and health promotion at Partners in Care Foundation.
When asked if the seniors were worried about the privacy of their information entered into HealthVault, Vazquez said it was not a significant issue with the pilot group, but also noted that there was a level of trust already established between the seniors and the trainers who were helping them.
And HealthVault is set up to make sure the user has full control over every bit of data in there, said Melissa O’Neil, product manager for HealthVault. “So I can share what I’m doing through the program, but I can block view into [certain data]. It’s pretty clear to patients how to do that,” she added.
Though it was a challenge getting the seniors up to speed with the technology, once they were comfortable with the basics, they started to explore things on their own. And when the information became relevant to them, said Vazquez, they really got engaged.
It also helped that the facility used for the program had a “cyber cafe,” with a number of computer stations and laptops available, and also wireless Internet access.
For the program, a special geriatric health-management application developed by Get Real Consulting was integrated with HealthVault to make it easy for seniors to monitor chronic conditions, track their progress over time and share the information with their health care providers or other caregivers.
“All members reported feeling happier, enjoying life more, and feeling empowered and in charge as a result of participation in the Exergamers Wellness Club,” said St. Barnabas CEO Rigo Saborio in a press release.
One member of the program, 77-year old Orlando Estrada, said the Exergamers Club helped him to go from “a wheelchair to a walker to double canes to, now, a walking stick just for balance.”
The Exergamers Wellness Club is being expanded to all of the senior centers within the Department of Aging service area. Partners in Care is excited about the success of the project, and is seeking funds to conduct more formal research into the benefits of the program, according to Vazquez.