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How Video Games Keep Seniors Fit

In Monday’s “Wall Street Journal,” I wrote about one of many so-called “self-management” programs that are gaining momentum, thanks to a growing recognition that patients need to do more to manage the chronic conditions that affect about 90% of adults age 65 and older.

Just a few days ago, Microsoft announced a dramatic expansion of another such program. This one uses electronic games to encourage senior citizens to exercise more. It equips participants with devices that allow them to better monitor their blood pressure, blood sugar and other indicators of health status—and transmit this data to their healthcare providers. Preliminary results indicate that participants see health improvements.

Called the “Exergamers Wellness Club,” the Microsoft program started a year ago at St. Barnabas Senior Center in Los Angeles. There, 34 members of the center meet weekly to dance, bowl, and do Tai Chi together, using Microsoft’s Kinect technology for the Xbox 360. (Those on the bowling team also compete in a virtual league against teams affiliated with a second L.A. senior center and a center in New York City.)

Now, Microsoft and its partners– the City of Los Angeles, the Partners in Care Foundation, and St. Barnabas Senior Services—say they will bring the same concept to another 15 senior centers in Los Angeles.

Bonnie Kearney, director of marketing for accessibility and aging at Microsoft, says the 34 pioneers appear to have reaped health benefits. In addition to becoming more active and fit, several seniors in the program experienced enhanced mobility. One even credits the program with enabling him to trade-in his wheelchair for a walker. Others have seen reductions in blood pressure readings and an increased commitment to regular exercise. “Everybody in the program reported feeling happier,” adds Ms. Kearney.

To monitor their health, participants use conventional medical devices, including blood pressure cuffs and blood-glucose monitors. With a Microsoft technology called HealthVault, the participants are able to upload readings from these devices to the Internet, where they can then elect to share the data with family, caregivers, and medical professionals, Microsoft says.


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About Encore

  • Encore examines the changing nature of retirement, from new rules and guidelines for financial security to the shifting identities and priorities of today’s retirees. The blog also explores news that affects retirement, from the Wall Street Journal Digital Network and around the web. Lead bloggers are reporter Catey Hill and senior editor Jeremy Olshan. Other contributors include The Wall Street Journal’s retirement columnists Glenn Ruffenach and Anne Tergesen; the Director for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Alicia Munnell; and the Director of Research for Pinnacle Advisory Group, Michael Kitces, CFP.