Guest post from June Simmons, President and CEO of Partners in Care Foundation

The theme of this years’ Older Americans Month, celebrated each May to honor older adults and their contributions to society, is never too old to play. How timely considering that today we are formally announcing the results of our yearlong partnership with Microsoft Corporation and the City of Los Angeles Department of Aging built around the Partners in Care Wellness Club model and Microsoft’s Kinect for Xbox 360 gaming platform.

Who would have thought that playing games, dancing in front of a television screen and learning computer skills to upload health information would offer so much promise for the wellbeing of older adults? This was our thinking when we partnered with Microsoft, the City of Los Angeles Department of Aging and St. Barnabas Senior Center to pilot the Exergamers Wellness Club, a health promotion program using consumer technology to support and enhance health outcomes in older adults. Built on Partners’ Wellness Club model of social engagement and physical activity, the Exergamers Wellness Club introduces a technology component to the model: using Microsoft Kinect for Xbox 360 for exercise and HealthVault for recording and tracking health information. It was a hit with the participants. The retention rate for this program has been impressive and self-reports from participants have indicated improvements in mood, increased knowledge and cognitive stimulation, and increased energy and sense of wellbeing; these are promising anecdotal outcomes.

We know physical activity is vital for people of all ages. It reduces the risk of certain chronic diseases, may relieve symptoms of depression, helps to maintain independent living, and enhance overall quality of life. However, changing behavior is one of the most difficult things to achieve. Full engagement is required for successful behavior change. The Exergamers Wellness Club’s greatest success was the engagement and retention of diverse participants. They signed up, they played and they stayed.

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“Virginia Vasquez, 81, and Margarita Orantes, 61, lead the way during a surprise dance at St. Barnabas Senior Services in Los Angeles. The flash mob was part of an event to announce the Exergamers Wellness Club, a partnership between Microsoft, The City of Los Angeles, Partners in Care Foundation, and St. Barnabas Senior Services. For the past year, the seniors at St Barnabas have been using Kinect for Xbox 360 to dance and bowl their way to fitness and Microsoft HealthVault to track their health and chronic conditions over time.”

The U. S. Administration on Aging reports that by 2030 there will be approximately 72.1 million older persons, 65 and older, living in the United States. “People 65+ represented 12.4% of the population in the year 2000 but are expected to grow to be 19% of the population by 2030.” During the next 20 years as our aging population grows, many will be at risk for multiple chronic conditions. Medical advances are helping people live longer, healthier lives and for many that is a blessing, but for those who will experience chronic disease, aging does not have to be a painful challenge. Just as researchers in the medical community are discovering new and improved treatments, researchers in health and wellness are developing new programs and advances that help us live better with whatever medical challenges we may have. That is our mission and our passion, to expand access to those programs that improve quality of life for individuals and families facing the health challenges of aging. Through effective prevention and self-management, we can stay healthier and live longer.

Developing cost-effective, evidence-based interventions that preserve and enhance health is one approach to achieving healthy aging and mitigating the risks of chronic illness and making them widely available and easily accessible; that is what Partners in Care and the City of Los Angeles Department of Aging are doing together. In addition, the integration of evidence-based health programs with gaming technology and personal health information has expanded our ability to take even greater responsibility for our health as we age.

Partners in Care doesn’t just implement the programs proven to work, we are also creating and testing new ways to deliver healthy outcomes for people of all ages. The Exergamers Wellness Club is just one example of the work we are doing in multicultural engagement. Partners is currently preparing for formal research to demonstrate the effectiveness of socialization and “fun” in motivating people to become engaged, physically active and participate in evidence-based health promotion programs.

Bonus link:

You can watch a fun ‘Flashmob’ from the announcement here.