Video games are becoming more prevalent in improving balance and fall prevention, increasing physical activity, and keeping the mind sharp. Researchers from the University of Missouri (UM) are going even deeper with video game applications, though — literally.
In Columbia, volunteers who live in a residential care facility are participating in UM’s study of how video games can help prevent falls and other serious accidents or illnesses. Microsoft Kinect cameras produce an infrared depth image of the participants, sort of like a three-dimensional silhouette. Kinect is the same 3D technology used with Microsoft’s Xbox 360 video game console, and is also being used in robotics, a field that also concerns itself with elder care.
Computer engineering professor Marjorie Skubic is involved with the UM project, which seeks to enhance independent living for seniors. Skubic and her students are creating algorithms to evaluate the data the Kinect cameras detect. With doctoral student Erik Stone, she is studying how Kinect can monitor changes in behavior or routine, which can indicate risk for falls, or early symptoms of illnesses and cognitive disorders. The cameras can also pick up on changes in a participant’s gait.
Mihail Popescu, assistant professor in the Department of Health Management and Informatics, is also involved with the UM study. He is working with doctoral student Liang Liu to develop a fall detection system using Doppler radar. The radar, which produces velocity data about an object and is often used in meterology, can recognize changes in gait and other movements. It can also recognize when a person falls.
“Falls are especially dangerous for older adults and if they don’t get help immediately, the chances of serious injury or death are increased,” said Liu. “If emergency personnel are informed about a fall right away, it can significantly improve the outcome for the injured patient.”
The UM study is highly technical, but video game applications for health benefits are still accessible to the non-scientists among us. Certain video game consoles, such as the Swinger Video Sports system from firstSTREET, are particularly easy to set up and start using. The console includes tennis, bowling, golf, baseball, and boxing, as well as the handheld controllers needed to play the games. (Pssst! It’s also currently discounted more than 50%.)
Source: “Microsoft gaming gear could help keep senior citizens safer in their homes,” Missourinet, 09/13/11
Image by oedipusphinx/theJWDban (Karl-Ludwig Poggemann), used under its Creative Commons license.