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Can the Gamification of Health Technology Improve Patient Connectedness and Well Being?

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Scientists and professors in Canada are working on a collaborative study to develop and evaluate exercise video games, or “exergames,” to engage youth with Cerebral Palsy in physical exercise to improve their physical fitness and quality of life, finds out Andrea Wahbe.

As children with cerebral palsy (CP) grow up and become teenagers, they often experience a decrease in their physical function. Many of them still have great mobility in their arms and hands but they can start to experience stiffness and/or weakness in their legs.

Exergames test

Kids with CP try out exercise video games

Children who are walking with a mobility aid, such as a walker, often need to start using a wheelchair to get around in their community during adolescence. If teens with CP continue with the walker, they get tired easily and begin to walk shorter distances. Poor physical fitness and muscle weakness, secondary to disuse, are significant contributors to a loss of limb function over time. As a result, many youth with CP will begin to experience an increased feeling of social isolation. This can impact negatively on their quality of life.

While the situation sounds bleak, there is hope in sight – thanks to new innovations in healthcare technology. Dr Darcy Fehlings, Senior Scientist and head of the UofT’s Division of Developmental Paediatrics, and Dr Nicholas Graham, Professor at the School of Computing at Queen’s University, are Co-Leading Principal Investigators (PIs) on a project taking place at Bloorview Research Institute in Toronto and at Queen’s University. The objective of this collaborative study is to develop and evaluate exercise video games, or “exergames,” to engage youth with CP in physical exercise to improve their physical fitness and quality of life.

“We know that the exercise bike, which powers the video games, has the potential to improve muscle strength and fitness by targeting the large muscles in the legs. Early tests have shown a moderate to vigorous increase in heart rate elevation when teens with CP play the “exergames.” The video games are networked online so that youth with CP can participate collaboratively and feel more connected with their peers,” says Dr. Fehlings.

Over a 2-year test period of the “exergames” system, the project’s target deliverables will be:

  • The development of one or more “exergames” designed to allow youth with CP of varying physical abilities to play and interact together. The design process involves youth with CP, game designers (at Queen’s University), and health professionals (at Bloorview Research Institute) and will focus on techniques to motivate long-term interactive play.
  • An evaluation of the effectiveness of the “exergames” through a prospective case series design, involving 10 youth with CP, assessing improvement in their physical fitness, gross motor function, leisure participation, and quality of life.

“The project involves fascinating challenges in game design”, says Dr. Graham. “We need to develop games where players are challenged to physically exert themselves, and yet are still having enough fun that they will come back again and again. We believe that the key to achieving this is to provide a lot of variety so that people can choose between high adrenaline action games, or more relaxed games based on creativity. And making it easy for people to play together is crucial, as players can be motivated by the social interaction with others.”

The project team is just finishing up the last of the game design evaluations sessions and is in the process of making a few more safety modifications to the bikes. The next step will be to test the “exergames” in a home environment in May and June and measure the impact.

“Once we’ve completed the tests this summer/fall, we hope to roll this project out nationwide – and even internationally in the future,” says Dr. Fehlings. She will be speaking at CDMN’s Canada 3.0 digital media forum on April 24th and 25th in Stratford, Ontario about “The Gamification of Health Technology.” Visit to find out more.

This article is republished from the Canadian digital media network
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