IMicrosoft at St. Barnabas Senior Centerf you think video games are just for kids, tweens and teens you’d be terribly wrong. People of all ages are buying and playing video games these days.  In fact, a pilot program called the Exergamers Wellness Club developed by Microsoft, the City of Los Angeles Department of Aging, Partners in Care Foundation and St. Barnabas Senior Services suggests playing video games with Kinect for XBOX 360 and monitoring heath status with HealthVaulttechnology can improve the health of senior citizens, increase social interaction, and enhance their quality of life.

The Exergamers Wellness Club kicked off in May 2011 with 22 members. It later expanded and now serves 34Microsoft at St. Barnabas Senior Center seniors between the ages of 64 and 94. With Kinect, seniors at St. Barnabas take part in virtual bowling tournaments with their counterparts at two other senior centers in Los Angeles and New York City. They also use the interactive online game instruction to dance to music ranging from hip hop to disco. HealthVault allows seniors to more effectively monitor the benefits of their increased activity, manage chronic conditions, and track personal health information such as blood pressure and blood-glucose levels. They can also easily share that information, at their discretion, with doctors, family members or other caregivers.

Some of the most impressive benefits of the Exergamers Wellness Club are evident in the individual stories of seniors who took part in the program.

Microsoft at St. Barnabas Senior Center

  • Luis Monterrosa, 67, saw his systolic blood pressure reading drop from a dangerously high level of 225 to a consistently normal range.
  • Socorro (Cory) Inocencio, 76, who had anxiety and heart palpitations, reported that she started sleeping better and was able to stop taking her anti-anxiety medication.
  • Orlando Estrada, 77, who had to use a wheelchair after two knee-replacement surgeries, now walks without artificial assistance.

“I went from a wheelchair to a walker, to double canes, to a walking stick just for balance,” Estrada said. “That’s because of the program we have here.”

Microsoft at St. Barnabas Senior CenterAnother important indicator of success was the high retention rate of participants in the fitness-and-health monitoring program. All 34 seniors interviewed reported increased well-being, improved mood, greater energy, and enjoyment of social connectivity through exergaming activities. About three-quarters of participating seniors also experienced improvements in one or more physical-function areas. Some seniors who had surgery or were ill during the evaluation period experienced decreased physical function, but even those seniors continued to participate in the program.

Microsoft at St. Barnabas Senior CenterAlthough the screenings and assessments conducted as part of the Exergamers Wellness Club are anecdotal and do not constitute extensive medical research, the partners believe that the benefits of exergaming and health-management for seniors deserve further study and hope that the results of this program will inspire additional quantitative research.

The Exergamers Wellness Club was built on the foundation of a disease-prevention and health-promotion that was originally developed by the Partners in Care Foundation. According to June Simmons, CEO of Partners in Care Foundation, adding technology was a critical enhancement to the health screenings and health-education programs that her organization has been delivering to Los Angeles seniors.

“HealthVault helps seniors better understand their health information and see progress over time, and Kinect makes exercise fun,” Simmons said. “And fun is crucial. Fun is what keeps them coming back.”

To facilitate the expansion of the Exergamers Wellness Club, Microsoft will donate Kinect for Xbox 360 to each of the 15 additional senior centers administered by the Los Angeles Department of Aging, along with a selection of Kinect games and a one-year subscription to Xbox Live.

Microsoft at St. Barnabas Senior CenterIn addition, Microsoft and Get Real Consulting, a global health-consulting and technology company, will offer the healthcare management tool they developed for the Los Angeles program to any public or private healthcare organization worldwide that delivers community health services for seniors. The tool, powered by Get Real's InstantPHR™, is integrated with HealthVault and enables healthcare providers to screen and monitor important geriatric health indicators such as diabetes, depression, memory function, vision, hearing, flexibility and strength, plus key measurements such as blood pressure and weight.

You can learn more about the Exergamers Wellness Club by following this link.

On June 13th, it will be my honor to provide the opening keynote at the Games for Health Conference in Boston.  There, I’ll provide additional information and updates on the Exergamers Wellness Club along with other uses of Kinect for XBOX 360, Kinect for Windows, and other gaming and mobile technologies in health and healthcare.

Bill Crounse, MD (Senior Director, Worldwide Health)