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