LOS ANGELES — April 4, 2012 —Orlando Estrada, 77, experienced so much pain and loss of balance after his two knee-replacement surgeries that he needed a wheelchair to get around. Taking the bus was an ordeal, and he got so little exercise that his blood pressure was heading toward the danger zone.
The Exergamers Wellness Club uses Kinect for Xbox 360 to help seniors at the the St. Barnabas Senior Center in Los Angeles stay fit and have fun.
Today, Estrada is not only walking again, he’s dancing, and his blood pressure is back to normal.
Estrada, a former design engineer at Hewlett Packard, attributes his remarkable recovery to his participation in the Exergamers Wellness Club, a project made possible by a public-private partnership between Microsoft, the Los Angeles Department of Aging, Partners in Care Foundation, and St. Barnabas Senior Services, a non-profit organization that operates a popular senior center in one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in Los Angeles. The Exergamers Wellness Club is based on a comprehensive health-and-wellness program developed by Partners in Care. For the Club, the Partners in Care core program is augmented by two Microsoft products—Microsoft Kinect for Xbox 360 and Microsoft HealthVault. The program and these tools enhance the lives of older adults, helping them get fit, increase social interaction, and manage their personal health information online.
Details of the program were unveiled at an event today in Los Angeles, kicking off with a “flashmob” of seniors, ages 60 to 80, erupting into dance at St. Barnabas Senior Center, Multipurpose Center.
Asked to describe the most striking benefit he has received from the Exergamers Wellness Club, Estrada explains: “I’ve graduated. I went from a wheelchair to a walker to double canes to, now, a walking stick just for balance. That’s because of the program we have here.”
Virginia Vasquez, 81, enjoys using Kinect for Xbox 360 to bowl and dance with friends at the St. Barnabas Senior Center in Los Angeles.
Due to the success of the project and the dramatic personal benefits reported by Estrada and many other participating seniors, Microsoft and its partners plan to expand the Exergamers Wellness Club to all of the senior centers within the Department of Aging service area. To help facilitate the expansion, Microsoft will donate Kinect for Xbox 360 to each of the 15 additional centers, along with a selection of Kinect games and a one-year Xbox LIVE Gold subscription.
“At Microsoft, we know from experience that technology has the power to transform lives and to enable people of all ages and abilities to realize their full potential. Nowhere is that more evident than in our work with seniors over the past few years in cities like Miami, New York and now Los Angeles,” says Bonnie Kearney, Director, Trustworthy Computing Communications, Accessibility and Aging. “By demonstrating how technology can benefit older adults, Microsoft and its partners hope to inspire other communities to develop technology-based programs that will improve seniors’ fitness, well-being and quality of life.”
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa says the City of Los Angeles is pleased to join Microsoft, the Partners in Care Foundation, and St. Barnabas Senior Services to assist area seniors.
Jose Luis Ruiz, age 70, and some of his friends enjoy a game of Kinect bowl at the St. Barnabas Senior Center in Los Angeles.
“The Exergamers Wellness Club allows seniors to improve their physical, mental and social well-being by participating in friendly competition, interactive gaming and tracking their health information online,” he says. “It is just one way we can give back to the people who have given our city so much,” Villaraigosa says. Seniors who want to participate in the expanding Exergamers Wellness Club program, or who need information about other senior services in Los Angeles, should contact the Los Angeles Department of Aging.
Creating the Exergamers Wellness Club
Orlando Estrada isn’t the only person whose life and health are being improved by the Exergamers Wellness Club. The Club began in May 2011 and now serves 34 seniors between the ages of 64 and 94. Partners in Care screened all participants when they entered the program to establish baseline measures for blood pressure, flexibility, balance, endurance and strength; and then conducted four functional-fitness assessments to evaluate changes in each of those categories. Participating seniors also received education in diabetes self-care, nutrition, pain management, and the importance of physical activity for maintaining good health and preventing decline.
The seniors at St. Barnabas use Microsoft Kinect to make exercise fun, competing in virtual bowling tournaments with their counterparts at two other senior centers in Los Angeles and New York City, and dancing along with hip hop, disco, and salsa workout routines.
“I really love bowling. I go crazy with bowling,” says Socorro (Cory) Inocencio, 76, whose enthusiasm is infectious. “I wake up sometimes at 3 o’clock in the morning, I prepare myself, and then I go to bed again. I watch the time. St. Barnabas opens at 8 a.m., and I’m already outside waiting.”
The bicoastal bowling competition is a popular feature of the Exergamers Wellness Club, and the friendly competition is paying big dividends for seniors in both Los Angeles and New York.
“The camaraderie we feel and the big smiles I see on the faces of the other bowlers is more satisfying to me than when I bowl several strikes in a row,” says Bernie Abramowitz, 72, a lifelong New Yorker who bowls and communicates with seniors at St. Barnabas from across the country at the Selfhelp Community Services Benjamin Rosenthal Senior Center in Flushing, New York. “It’s a fun and easy way to maintain fitness.”
While the interactive sports and dance programs in Kinect get seniors moving, a special geriatric health-management application—integrated with HealthVault and developed by Get Real Consulting, a global health-consulting and technology company—makes it easy for the seniors to monitor chronic conditions such as hypertension and diabetes and to track their progress over time.
The application, powered by Get Real’s InstantPHR™, also enables healthcare providers, with the seniors’ permission, to screen and monitor important geriatric health indicators such as diabetes, depression, memory function, vision, hearing, flexibility and strength. In addition, the tool is connected to HealthVault, which offers seniors the ability to upload readings from health-monitoring devices such as blood pressure cuffs and blood-glucose monitors for people with diabetes. They can then share that information, at their discretion, with family members or other caregivers.
Exergaming: An Emerging Trend in Senior Health
Regular exercise is known to be beneficial for people of all ages. Yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 14 percent of adults aged 65 to 74, and only 7 percent of adults over 75, exercise regularly.
That’s why one of the most important success indicators for the Exergamers Wellness Club is the high retention rate of participants in the program. Keeping seniors engaged in traditional health-and-fitness programs is often a challenge, resulting in lower retention rates, according to June Simmons, CEO of Partners in Care Foundation. The Exergamers Wellness Club model of combining interactive gaming and other technologies with a variety of elements, such as motivation, education, social activities and other rewarding experiences, helped to ensure the continued interest and participation of seniors.
“The retention power of the Exergamers Wellness Club was very encouraging,” Simmons says. “Ninety percent of the participants in the program came to at least three quarters of the fitness classes, and 33 of 34 participants stayed in the program throughout.”
That’s by design. The Exergamers Wellness Club is based on a program of disease prevention and health promotion that was originally developed by the Partners in Care Foundation. But Simmons says the addition of technology was an essential enhancement to the regular health screenings and health-education programs that her organization conducts with Los Angeles seniors. Kinect made exercise more appealing, and the HealthVault-compatible application developed by Get Real Consulting made it easier for seniors to manage their personal health information.
“This program helps seniors better understand their health and see progress over time,” Simmons says. “And Kinect makes exercise fun and engaging—and that’s what keeps them coming back.”
Exergaming, the name given to the practice of using interactive video games for exercise, is a growing fitness trend for people of all ages, but only recently have seniors started to discover the benefits of exergaming. Los Angeles, with its Exergamers Wellness Club, may be the first U.S. city to launch a citywide health-and-wellness program for seniors that has exergaming playing an important role.
The benefits reported by Exergamers Wellness Club members and collected by Partners in Care are anecdotal rather than scientific, and the medical studies of exergaming conducted so far have used small samples or have been limited in other ways. Still, the early indications are very promising, and Simmons believes exergaming as a health-and-fitness tool for seniors deserves further study.
Going Beyond Physical Fitness
In addition to becoming more active and more fit, several seniors in the program have experienced other benefits.
“All members reported feeling happier, enjoying life more, and feeling empowered and in charge as a result of participation in the Exergamers Wellness Club,” says St. Barnabas CEO Rigo Saborio. “That kind of positive change is what we strive to help all of our seniors achieve every day. This program provides invaluable tools that can help communities improve their seniors’ quality of life.”
Club participant Cory Inocencio says some benefits of the program go beyond exercise or health management. “The people here are from many different backgrounds and cultures,” she says. “We learn from each other. We greet and embrace each other.”
Orlando Estrada sums up what all of the Exergamers Wellness Club participants seem to feel: “Everything has changed for the better.”