In news that could smash stereotypes and open up a massive new market, older people have been found to benefit from video games that help them reduce chronic low back pain from the comfort of their homes.
New research from the University of Sydney has discovered older people can lower their pain by 27 per cent using the technology, which is comparable to the benefits achieved under programs supervised by physiotherapists.
But this isn’t Minecraft, Fortnite or Second Life, this is gaming for health, with an 8-week video game exercise program through the Nintendo Wii Fit U shown to improve pain levels.
Published in Physical Therapy, the first-of-its-kind study investigated the effectiveness of the use of the program in people aged over 55.
Participants practised flexibility, strengthening and aerobic exercises at home for 60-minute sessions three times a week and without the supervision of a physiotherapist.
The randomised controlled trial also found the program led to a 23 per cent increase in function.
Physiotherapist and post-doctoral research fellow from the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health Dr Joshua Zadro said the video games can be considered as a treatment option, especially for those who find it difficult to access services.
“This program has great potential as supervised physiotherapy visits can be costly and people who live in remote or rural areas can face barriers accessing these services,” he said.
“Older people with poor physical functioning also prefer home-based exercises, as travelling to treatment facilities can be difficult.”
Zadro said structured exercise programs are recommended for the management of chronic low back pain because usually there is poor compliance to unsupervised home-exercises, but the video game was a hit.
“Our study … had high compliance to video-game exercises, with participants completing on average 85 per cent of recommended sessions.
“Video-game exercises are interactive, have video and audio instructions, provide feedback on a patient’s technique and scores them on the basis of their performance. These features are extremely motivating and likely explain why compliance to this program was much higher than other trials that have instructed patients to exercise without supervision.”
Senior author Associate Professor Paulo Ferreira said use of the technology could also fit into the healthcare funding model.
“These programs could be implemented under the current Medicare Benefits Schedule chronic pain care pathway in Australia, with only one session needed to set up the program and teach patients how to use it. Traditional exercise programs require many more sessions than are funded by the Medicare Benefits Schedule.”
Sixty participants took part in the study, which also saw them receive fortnightly calls from a physical therapist.
Effectiveness was measured by looking at outcomes including primary care seeking, and physical activity, pain, function, disability, fear of movement or re-injury, adherence, and adverse events.
The Wii Fit U exercise program was found to improve pain self-efficacy at 6 months and pain and function immediately post-intervention in older people with chronic LBP.
However, the clinical importance of the changes were found to be questionable, with the Wii Fit U exercises having no effect on care-seeking, physical activity, disability, fear of movement or re-injury, or falls efficacy.