Ageing society

Hong Kong students develop fall-prevention video game to help elderly stay on their feet

  • Project by Institute of Vocational Education undergraduates is based on three simple exercises to improve strength, flexibility and coordination
  • Game uses 3D motion capture, facial recognition and voice recognition to guide users
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 October, 2018, 9:34am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 October, 2018, 4:08pm

Taking a nasty tumble could lead to serious injuries for the elderly, but a new video game made by students from the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education (IVE) aims to help tackle the issue.

Together with their science teacher, a group of medical centre operations undergraduates have developed a motion-sensing game to train seniors to be less vulnerable to falls.

“Due to the degeneration of the body, older adults often struggle to stay upright amid their lack of strength and balancing skills,” said Dr Lo Sin-on, a registered physiotherapist who helped design the programme.

“With the risks of falling so great, fall prevention is very important, and it begins with exercising,” he added.

What use is living longer when our elderly care is a disgrace?

According to government figures, 2.58 million people in Hong Kong will be 65 and above by 2064, accounting for 35.9 per cent of the population. Meanwhile, the Primary Care Office of the Department of Health warned that between 30 per cent to 40 per cent of community-dwelling older adults over 65 fall at least once every year.

The console game aims to reduce the risk of fractures and other injuries with easy exercises that can be done at home.

Designed with Kinect technology, which features full-body 3D motion capture, facial recognition and voice recognition capabilities, the Fall Prevention Exercise Game consists of three simple movements: marching on the spot for one minute, doing eight chair stands within 30 seconds and a stretching exercise.

The exercises aim to strengthen the lower limbs while enhancing balancing techniques.

“These moves can help improve one’s hand-eye coordination, train the resistance of their lower body muscles and increase flexibility, which is often overlooked,” Dr Lo said.

“It is much like an Xbox game – all the participants have to do is follow the instructions on the screen and complete them in front of the RGB camera
Kong Chiu-fan, lecturer

“While doing these moves won’t guarantee fewer falls, it will allow the elderly to become more physically active and get them prepared to catch [themselves when falling],” he added.

The beauty of the game, as stressed by its designers, is that it brings the fun back into exercising.

“It is much like an Xbox game – all the participants have to do is follow the instructions on the screen and complete them in front of the RGB camera, which is a system for representing the colours red, green and blue, to be used on a computer display,” said Kong Chiu-fan, a lecturer at VTC’s Department of Applied Science.

The depth sensor on the camera will analyse if the movements have been done precisely. At the end of each set, players are graded on their accuracy for each move.

“There are also suggestions on how they can improve, this will encourage them to stay on their feet,” Kong said.

Hong Kong needs creative solutions to elderly care

More than 100 seniors aged between 60 and 80 have tried out the movements, which took the designers three months to test. The group recommended doing the exercises at least once a day for improvement.

The developers said they were working to add more movements to the game, hoping that by making the system more advanced, they could commercialise it in the future.

The Fall Prevention Exercise Game and seven other projects by students from IVE and the Technological and Higher Education Institute of Hong Kong will be showcased at Inno Carnival 2018. The event, organised by the Innovation and Technology Commission, will be held from November 3 to November 11 at the Hong Kong Science Park.