Microsoft Kinect, HealthVault Boost Senior Wellness Program in L.A.

The Microsoft Kinect system for Xbox and HealthVault personal health platform allow senior citizens in L.A. to improve their chronic conditions and track their medical data.

Tracking your health is fun and games if you're at St. Barnabas Senior Services in Los Angeles. Microsoft and the City of Los Angeles Department of Aging have announced a project at the facility in which seniors improve their chronic conditions through the use of Microsoft Kinect for Xbox 360.

Kinect is a controller-free device that allows gamers to participate using motion sensing and gestures in Xbox.

In the project announced April 4, the Exergamers Wellness Club at St. Barnabas allows members ages 64 to 94 to participate in games using Kinect on Xbox and to monitor their health data through Get Real Consulting's InstantPHR, powered by Redmond's HealthVault cloud-based platform.

St. Barnabas also educates seniors on how these tech tools can improve their health.

"By combining computer instruction, health education and exercise, this program enables seniors to take advantage of the technology available to have fun while they manage chronic health conditions," Rigo Saborio, president and CEO of St. Barnabas Senior Services, wrote in an email to eWEEK.

"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," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in a statement. "It is just one way we can give back to the people who have given our city so much."

Seniors can participate in dancing and virtual bowling using Kinect. Through both the gaming platform and HealthVault, seniors have been able to improve their chronic conditions dramatically, said St. Barnabas' Saborio.

With these positive changes to conditions such as high blood pressure while using Kinect, seniors were more likely to continue using it, said Dennis Schmuland, Microsoft's chief health strategy officer. Schmuland was promoted into his current position in a reshuffling of Microsoft's health care IT leadership last summer.

In addition, exercise allows seniors to reduce accidental falls and hip fractures while extending their lives, Schmuland told eWEEK.

"If there are ways to improve the agility and strength of seniors, we can actually prevent disability and premature death," he said. "We know that when seniors fracture their hips, their risk of dying prematurely rises five to eight times for the next three months and never returns to their baseline risk before the fracture."

Originally operating with 22 senior members when it began in May 2011, the Exergamers Wellness Club now includes 34 seniors who contribute to informal medical research involving exergaming and health management at St. Barnabas.

Partners in Care, a nonprofit organization specializing in elder care and chronic conditions, founded the club.

"This program helps seniors better understand their health and see progress over time," June Simmons, president and CEO of Partners in Care, said in a statement.

Making exercise and wellness fun for seniors with Kinect and Xbox was a key goal of the public/private partnership involving Microsoft, Partners in Care and the city of Los Angeles, Schmuland noted.

"This is a good example of how organizations use technology in an innovative way to make what was a mundane experience a more exceptional and fun experience," said Schmuland.

"Kinect makes exercise fun and engaging€”and that's what keeps them coming back," said Simmons of Partners in Care.

Seniors used InstantPHR built on HealthVault to keep track of vital health data such as cholesterol, weight and blood glucose levels. Then they used the cloud application to share their information with family members or caregivers.

"This enabled physicians to visually track seniors, give feedback and encourage them that they were on the right track," said Schmuland. Building "electronic nudges" into the platform such as medication reminders was important while they exercised in an environment they were familiar with, he explained.

In addition to Kinect, seniors at St. Barnabas also use Skype to communicate with seniors at a self-help senior center in New York.