Fall prevention is a frequent topic here on the firstSTREET blog, and with good reason. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are common in adults over the age of 65, and 30% – 45% of people in this age group fall per year. The CDC estimates that by 2020, medical expenditures related to falls could reach $54.9 billion annually.
Furthermore, out of 5,875 respondents to a recent survey by UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company, 21% fell in the last year and another 17% reported issues with balance or walking. UnitedHealthcare assessed 15,000 individuals at least 65 years of age in a 10-state region who are enrolled in AARP Medicare Supplement plans. Researchers found that falling and the risk of falling had a stronger influence on quality of life than many common chronic health conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, or hypertension.
Dr. Richard J. Migliori, executive vice president of Health Services at UnitedHealth Group, said, “It is clear from this survey [...] that falling and being at risk of falling also affect quality of life mentally and socially, as well as physically.” The full survey, “The Burden of Falling on the Quality of Life Among Adults with Medicare Supplement Insurance,” will be published in the August issue of Journal of Gerontological Nursing.
One solution to combat the risk of falling is — believe it or not! — playing video games. “Video games have this quality about them that they make you want to play them continually. When you’re delivering exercise services, that’s perfect,” says Dr. Stuart Smith, senior research scientist for Neuroscience Research Australia. Dr. Smith continues, “We have to engage older adults in repetitive, balance improving exercise. Exercise is absolutely the cheapest solution.”
Dr. Smith says that the games can aid in rehabilitation for strokes and other conditions, too. He also cites the example of a particular Parkinson’s disease patient who would normally need to make multiple bus trips for a single neurologist consultation.
At the Life Care Center in Scottsdale, Arizona, a gaming system developed especially for seniors uses a camera to capture the person’s movements. The game helps increase mobility, stability, and memory. Both seniors interviewed about the system by host Connie Colla for ABC15 mentioned “fear” as a concern when doing balance exercises. One of the women said, “I wasn’t afraid,” in regards to using the game to do her exercises, even without using her walker.
A program designed by East Carolina University students in North Carolina uses the Nintendo Wii video game system to help increase core stability and balance in seniors. “When they have a fear if falling they tend to restrict activity, thinking it won’t make them fall. When in reality, it really increases their risk of falling. So I want to get them out here in a safe environment where we can familiarize them with this kind of technology,” says recreational therapist Whitney Sauter, one of the grad students involved in the project.
As the article on WNCT.com about the North Carolina program points out, video games are also a great way to bridge generation gaps: “It’s something seniors can do not only with each other, but with their grandkids. And it’s fun too.”
Source: “Falls and Risk of Falling Have Greater Impact on Older Adults’ Quality of Life Than Diabetes, Hypertension and Other Chronic Conditions, According to New Survey,” MarketWatch, 08/02/11
Source: “Video Games And The NBN Will Stop Gran Breaking Her Hip,” Gizmodo, 08/01/11
Source: “Move over, Wii! New virtual gaming system for seniors,” ABC15.com, 07/28/11
Source: “Seniors Use Wii To Stay In Shape,” WNCT.com, 08/01/11
Image by Napalm filled tires (Jason), used under its Creative Commons license.