Broadband helps older people Kinect for exercise

Testing the potential for the NBN to provide older Australians with in-home health and fitness options shows that there’s a gamer in all of us.

The Ageing Well at Home with Broadband project is seeking to test the feasibility and acceptability of delivering a virtual exercise program using Microsoft Kinect for Xbox 360.

The goal is to allow participants to do something at home to preserve their function and mobility and stay relatively active.

The project is a collaboration between Australia’s Academic and Research Network (AARNet), the Council on the Ageing (COTA), Merri Community Health Services, Microsoft, Infoxchange Australia, Moreland City Council, NBN Co, and the University of Melbourne’s Institute for a Broadband-Enabled Society (IBES) and National Ageing Research Institute (NARI).

The organisations received matched funding from the Victorian government’s Broadband-Enabled Innovation Program, with the technology currently being tested with residents in the suburb of Brunswick, which was Victoria’s first site in the NBN roll-out. There are also a large number of seniors living in the Moreland City Council area.

Residents participating in the trial received a broadband connection and an Xbox, and were able to exercise alone or in a virtual group of four, plus an instructor, via the Xbox’s Avatar Connect software.

The Kinect’s infra-red sensor tracks users’ movements during exercises, and Avatar Connect captures users’ facial expressions on their avatar, giving the group sessions a stronger sense of having a real-time conversation.

In the group sessions, the instructor was based at Merri Community Health Services headquarters, and participants were at home.

Elizabeth Cyarto, a research fellow in NARI’s health promotion division, said the group sessions gave participants the feeling of being in a traditional exercise class, the confidence of following an instructor and, importantly, a feeling of community and “getting out there”.

Because the focus of the trial is on acceptability, the researchers have focused on participant enjoyment and engagement with the technology, and acquisition of skills to use it.

Health measurements are confined to simple indicators of strength, balance and mobility.

Dr Cyarto said the researchers were pleasantly surprised at how quickly the participants had learnt how to log in to the program and accept invitations to join the classes.

However, there are some hurdles to get over. Users who did not wear a headset experienced feedback of an unknown cause that occurred between the television and Xbox speakers. The team is providing participants with wireless headsets to counter the problem.

And as Avatar Connect only tracks upper-body movement, exercises had to be tailored to the upper body.

Users also need to keep in mind not to wear clothing that is very baggy, which can confuse the sensors.

After the initial trial, researchers will consider applying for another grant to extend the project, with a view to bringing in more participants.

“eHealth has potential not just for medical services, but also for preventive measures like physical activity,” Dr Cyato said.

“It’s just a matter of keeping on with these trials, and trying different methods, using different types of technology, to find out what the best scenario is for older people – something that is cost-effective and allows people to age well.”

The current trial will run for another six months.

Posted in Allied Health

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