Study Tests Effectiveness of Video Games in Improving Health of Older Schizophrenic Patients

Published November 23, 2018

Older individuals with health issues can end up in costly situations when it comes to care. Whether lack of balance led to an unexpected fall or a preexisting condition like high blood pressure exists, encouraging older patients to be active can be difficult and costly. However, a new study conducted by associate professor of Physiological Nursing at the UC San Francisco School of Nursing Heather Leutwyler, may have found a solution to this problem for patients with schizophrenia and other preexisting conditions. Implementation of her findings could save families from paying costly health bills, allowing them to free up money for necessities like groceries, investing through online brokerages, or trips.

The study, as reported by MedicalXpress.com, examined the role of the gaming system Xbox, specifically their Kinect system, can have on the motivation of getting older schizophrenic patients to participate in an enjoyable exercise. This system was chosen because “the self-paced nature of the games offers a safe and easy way for a sedentary population to get started with exercise.” This one-week program was expanded to 10 weeks after the preliminary test proved to be effective and enjoyable for participants and administrators.

Residents enjoyed playing the active, light-hearted video games after a full day of psychotherapy treatments, which surprised Leutwyler. On the success of the program, she said that they “weren’t expecting it because [people with schizophrenia] tend to be more socially isolated.” Not only were the participants fully invested in the game, but they were encouraging each other, supporting one another, and getting competitive with their scores. They wanted to watch their scores go up with their increased participation.

The games the elder patients played occurred during one-hour sessions that occurred three times a week. The different sessions isolated different mobility skills to develop in the patients. Certain weeks focused on strength and flexibility, some examined balance and coordination, and others looked at aerobic fitness. Games that tested these skills included tai chi, soccer, skiing, and a game referred to as “20,000 Leaks.” This game put the participant in a virtual tank where they have to stop the leaks with their hands and feet.

An early examination of results found a positive result of the video game participation. Data showed statistic improvement in social withdrawal, lack of motivation and increased walking speed. Leutwyler comments on the results, saying “in focus groups, [participants] have been telling us they feel more engaged in their health and that it’s

easier to get around and do daily activities,” she says. “They even tell us they notice others in the group having an easier time doing chores around the house.”

The program hopes to inspire future endeavors like it, finding new and unique ways to get patients up and moving. Though video games are often disassociated with movement and activity, the study found that elderly individuals suffering from these health issues enjoyed the challenge, participation, and camaraderie of their gaming sessions.

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