Video game technology helps Veterans improve their balance, get moving


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When 69-year-old Vietnam Veteran Robert Brown was looking for ways to increase his balance and physical activity, he joined VA’s Wii FitTM pilot research study at Little Rock, Ark. Motivated to lose weight, he overcame his concerns about falling and started walking and exercising again on a regular basis.

Brown and other Veterans took part in the VA- funded study led by Dr. Kalpana Padala at VA’s Geriatrics Research, Education and Clinical Center (GRECC) at the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System in Little Rock.

Dr. Padala and Brown are pictured above along with research coordinator Christopher Parkes.

The study involved a randomly assigned group of 30 participants.  Researchers used the Wii ™ program, comparing results with a control group that completed computer-based mental exercises.

The Nintendo® Wii Fit™ Plus program includes a Wii console, Wii balance board, and Wii remote.  It consists of balance games, yoga, strength training, aerobics and training plus (more advanced activities). Balance exercises involved posture control (e.g. Half Moon, Torso Twist), weight shifting (e.g. Ski Slalom), multidirectional balance (e.g. Table Tilt), and multidirectional balance while doing a mental activity (e.g. Perfect 10).

Combining activity with technology is the focus

The results showed 12 times greater improvement in balance among the older Veterans using the Wii Fit™ program compared to the control group.  Results were published in the Journal of Aging Research. Dr. Padala said the study’s results show promise to help understand and improve mobility in older adults. “Combining physical activity with readily available technology is the focus of our research,” said Dr. Padala. “These exercise programs are most effective if they are readily available and easy to do.”

Army Veteran William Boehmer took part in the program and also had a positive experience.  He suffered a serious spinal cord injury while serving in the first Gulf War and was nearly paralyzed at one point. His back had increasingly become worse after a series of operations and physical therapy.

Boehmer said the Wii Fit™ video games and exercise program have helped him the most.  He used to have problems in doing simple things, like walking to the mailbox. But now he is skiing—albeit indoors — through use of the video and balance board.  Boehmer said the balance board and video games require the participant to move and twist and turn while watching a video as if you are skiing on a course. The weight shifts and turns help in ways they don’t originally focus on for their balance.

“I could tell I was more balanced; my gait was better,” Boehmer said.

Thousands die from falls every year

Studies show that 22 percent of older adults living in the community fall each year.  An estimated 2.8 million older adults get treated annually for falls, of which about 800,000 are hospitalized, and 27,000 die as a result of falls.

Dr. Padala said the long-term goal is to increase physical activity level in older adults and lower their risk of falls. “These results are very encouraging because balance and gait problems are very common in older adults and are important risk factors for falls. Falls in turn are associated with increased morbidity and mortality in the older adults,” Dr. Padala said.

Dr. Padala plans to apply for grant money to offer the program to a larger group of Veterans and to bring the program to peoples home so it is readily available for the Veterans to use it.

“Expanding this program based on the research makes tremendous sense for us in VA because more than 50 percent of Veterans enrolled in VA’s health care system are over the age of 65,” said Dr. Richard Allman, Chief Consultant for VA’s Geriatrics and Extended Care (GEC) program.

Want to see more? Check out this Wii Fit Therapy Video featuring Mr. Boehmer.


Bill OutlawAbout the author: Bill Outlaw, Communications Manager, Office of Patient Care Services.

Author

VAntagePoint Contributor

-- VAntage Point Contributors provide insight and perspective on a wide range of Veterans issues. If you'd like to contribute a story to VAntage Point, learn how you can submit a guest blog at http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/how-to-submit-a-guest-post/

Comments

  1. Saundra KING    

    Will the Wii Fit program be made available to rural areas?

  2. Raymond Whittaker    

    Will this come to Bay Pines VA in St Petersburg, Florida?

  3. Richard Connearney    

    Will this be in Wilmington NC VA

  4. maria winter    

    Does the veteran receive the Wii Fit Plus to use at home? Sometimes travel is an issue & people that live in smaller communities don’t receive the same advantages as a big cities with a full VA facility. Sounds like a great program but I don’t think it goes far enough to ensure that all veterans have equal access to it. Some large VA facilities have swimming pools, yoga classes, and other physical therapy opportunities. If, like me, you live in a small town several miles away, you get nothing, unless you can travel one to 2 hours round trip or more. Gym government contracts and aquatics physical therapy contracts for people that live far from the nearest facility, also taking home some of this equipment like the Wii Fit.

    Belen, NM

  5. PATRICIA COOKE    

    I need this therapy., can you get the program on internet for
    This? Or just get get a wii balance board and follow
    The program?

  6. James M. Helton    

    I would love to try this program. Nothing else has worked for me and I want to lose weight and remain active. Who do I contact thru Roudebush to get involved?

  7. James Hartnett    

    Sounds like this will be of great help for the older veterans with balance issues to avoid accidents.
    I have a spinal stenosis plus arthritis up and down. I walk every day and stretch before getting out of bed which helps tremendously.
    However I can see how the WiiFit
    program will help positive results.
    Sign me up, thanks.

  8. Raymond M. Lester    

    I enjoyed what I saw and read, when will it be available in Phoenix, Arizona.

  9. Catherine Mantle    

    I have a Wii Fit board, but have never used it- what games should I use for balance and weight loss?

  10. Mistie Shaw    

    I volunteer and live in China but when my arthritis–hands, back, hips, knees–is bad, sometimes i stay inside for weeks at a time. Will it be available to veterans like me? I have a 100%, service-connected disability.

  11. Michael J Galas    

    How can I get the program.
    Where do I order it from?

  12. Roderick D Bowles    

    This Wii program will be a big help as I restart my cardio program, Thanks, Rod Bowles

  13. Julia Bryant    

    Program for my husband ho is a veteran

  14. Richard B Johns    

    Apparently the Wii set up can be bought on Ebay but I am not sure i has all the components as used on the VA pilot program

  15. otis mattox    

    Who can I contact to get into this program.

  16. Gene Talley    

    Where can I can I get this program? Is this available on the open market? How much does it cost? Is this a regular Wii Fit computer game?

  17. Douglas Poff, D.C.    

    I would like to run this program for the Long Beach, Ca VA hospital. Does anyone know if this hospital is going to start this program? And who I would contact? Thx!

  18. Manuel Campbell    

    I live in Tucson Arizona, this is a program/system I believe will help me with the multiple disability issues that contribute to my balance issues. Not being offered at The VA hospital in My area, how do I get it authorized for my health care regiment.

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