By using AR based mixed reality training, the elderly and the disabled can improve their balance at a lower cost. The mixed reality glasses makes it more fun to exercise, while simultaneously helping the patient remember their exercises.
– We know that many elderly people are motivated to exercise and regain their balance after for example a fall injury, but do not know how to go about it. Using mixed reality training, they can receive clear instructions, which then in turn makes training more fun, says Sven Blomqvist, assistant professor [universitetslektor] of sports science at the University of Gävle. Together with professors Maria Engström and Stefan Seipel Sven Blomqvist have received funding from FPX through Geo Life Region and University of Gävle to develop technology that will help the elderly and disabled patients train their balance. The team´s research reveals how physical activity can be aided by artificial reality to benefit these groups.
Improve balance in everyday life
As the elderly population grows larger, parts of it suffering from chronic disease and disability, so too does the demand for health services and resources, putting a great strain on society. Fall injuries due to poor balance are a major concern for the elderly and something that may quickly impair the ability and quality of life. But preventative exercise can improve one’s balance, says Sven Blomqvist.
When the elderly return home from the hospital after receiving treatment, rehabilitation is often necessary to regain balance and strength. But the resources required for this rehabilitation are often scarce, Sven says.
– They may get one session with a physiotherapist and a training program written out on paper. Then when you return home you realize the instructions are difficult to follow and remember. Healthcare faces a great many challenges and must use its resources more efficiently. Modern technology can become a means of achieving improved balance before the accident actually occurs, says Sven Blomqvist.
Using new techniques: Mixed reality
Virtual reality has been around for quite some time and is used both for entertainment and educational purposes in various forms, for example in the form of glasses. Mixed reality mix together real-world views and computer graphics that the user can interact with.The project was an interdisciplinary effort working across the academic boundaries where Computer Science, Health Care Science, and Sports Science met. A project team was formed including three leaders from each discipline, two students from the computer science program, and two physiotherapists from Capio Brynäs. Eight people between 70 and 80 years old suffering from balance disorders were then selected to participate in the study.
The research project was based on the mixed reality software Microsoft Hololens, a technological solution often used in digital education. Using this, a training application where the user tries to catch balls by leaning left or right was designed and programmed. The eight research subjects were required to train twice a week for six weeks with a physiotherapist. When they passed a certain level the training would became more difficult. The subjects got points if they did well in the training, which in turn motivated them to try a little harder each time. The research subjects’ balance was measured before and after the study was completed.
– Our main purpose, however, was not primarily the balance training itself. We wanted to see if the technology could work for those who don’t have a lot of experience using digital tools.
Positive research results
All eight patients as well as the physiotherapists were interviewed after the study concluded. In general, they all felt highly satisfied and thought the technology was exciting and stimulating.
– We found that the software became a stimulant that motivated them to continue training and do that little bit of extra thanks to the gamification aspect; i.e. the exercises being a bit like a game where you can play against yourself. In the future, society’s limited resources will feel the strain even more as the new aging population continues to grow. Today the AR and MR technologies are new and quite expensive, but as development takes off it will surely become more cost effective, efficient and user friendly. Sven and his team can see this solution being used with patients too ill or weak to travel to a health care facility for training, or for inhabitants of remote or sparsely populated regions. They also see the social benefits when it comes to preventive training, before a fall accident occurs. Additionally, future technology should be able to connect a person’s hands and feet, thereby for example helping stroke patients train their coordination skills and get back to their everyday lives faster.
They also see the social benefits when it comes to preventive training, before a fall accident occurs. Additionally, future technology should be able to connect a person’s hands and feet, thereby for example helping stroke patients train their coordination skills and get back to their everyday lives faster.
– We are now searching for additional funding opportunities to expand the two applications we have so far. We would like to work with strength as well, since that’s another important attribute to maintain when you get older in order to prevent fall injuries.
Watch Sune Samuelson exercising with the mixed reality glasses: https://play.hig.se/media/t/0_fivlcoc1
The difference between virtual, augmented, and mixed reality technologies:
Virtual reality (VR) immerses the user in a fully artificial digital environment, like a video game.
Augmented reality (AR) overlays a real-world environment with virtual objects. Unlike virtual reality (VR), which replaces the real world with a simulated one, the technology works by enchancing one’s perception of the current reality.
Mixed reality (MR) doesn’t just overlay but anchors virtual objects to the real world. Hence, the user can interact with both the real world and the virtual environment.