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10/19/2016 12:17 pm ET Updated Oct 19, 2016

Discovered! A Very High-Tech Way To Get Elderly People To Exercise

Talk about old meeting new!
Keystone via Getty Images
 

Talk about young intersecting with old! One of the major problems facing nursing homes is that patients don’t move around enough. 

A new research project from Aalborg University in Denmark may have the solution: virtual reality. The project uses the technology to get seniors on exercise bikes, thus turning exercise from a chore into a digital experience.

Jon Ram Bruun-Pedersen of the Multisensory Experience Lab in the Department of Architecture, Design and Media Technology at Aalborg University Copenhagen said “All too often the elderly end up sitting and looking at a wall or staring passively into a television. As a rule they’re usually not particularly motivated to exercise, partly because getting moving again after a long period of inactivity can cause pain, and partly because it’s not particularly interesting to sit and look at a wall while you bike,” he said.

In Bruun-Pedersen’s study, large TV screens were set up in front of the exercise bikes in the nursing home’s activity room. While they biked, the 21 seniors rode through various virtual landscapes on the TV screen. The bikes were linked with the screens so that the speed the subjects biked with reflected their speed through the landscape.

“The study showed that seniors were really happy with the experience,” says  Bruun-Pedersen. “They really lived it and felt as if they had to pedal extra hard to get up the hill on the screen ― even though they really didn’t feel higher resistance on the bike.”

Next, the elderly subjects were fitted with Virtual Reality goggles with small screens in front of their eyes. The illusion is very true to life, and the elderly subjects vividly experienced being out in the great outdoors ― even though they were still on an exercise bike in the physical therapy room at the nursing home.

“We set the study up so the participants could ride in the same landscapes they knew from the screens. They took to the experience amazingly well,” Bruun-Pedersen said. The subjects desire to use the exercise bikes significantly increased, he said.

“This is really positive,” he says. “Partly because it is good for them physically to move more, but also because I wanted them to experience getting out of the nursing home and out in the world ― even if it’s a virtual world.”

It also brings the world to them. “It may well be you can’t get out of the nursing home and take a plane to Mallorca or a bus to the Harz mountains, but you can experience what it’s like to go for a walk in the mountains or visit some of the world’s great attractions. It could also be that you’d like to go for a walk in your childhood neighborhood or something else that has had great significance,” he says. “The possibilities are there with Virtual Reality.”

 
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