As I found out the hard way when I got interviewed recently on radio 3AW, it can be tricky convincing senior citizens of the benefits of the NBN. Like any sales pitch, you need to tap into people’s desires and anxieties. Promising high-speed porn would be an effective but tacky strategy, so tapping into the natural fears many septuagenarians have of falling over seems the next-best idea. And that’s exactly what NBN Co is doing: one of its selling points for the NBN is that it makes it easier to use video games to reduce the risks of senior citizens falling over.
At Fridays’s NBN launch in Kiama, Dr Stuart Smith the senior research scientist for Neuroscience Research Australia, explained eloquently how the NBN and video game technology can combine to help reduce the risk of falling for older Australians. (Side note: Smith, who worked for years in Ireland, said the NBN rollout was a factor in his returning home, since it made advanced research and medical treatments much more feasible.)
Not only is falling a deeply unpleasant experience for the individual involved, it also costs society an absolute bucketload. A single fall-related admission to emergency carries a total price tag of $20,000. NSW Health estimates that in a single year, senior citizen falls cost half a billion dollars to deal with in the state.
How can we reduce that risk (and that cost)? Smith says fitness is the most vital factor. “Exercise is the key The more we can exercise, the more we can improve our overall level of health. We have to engage older adults in repetitive, balance improving exercise. Exercise is absolutely the cheapest solution.”
The difficulty is persuading Grandma and Grandpa to hit the treadmill, which Smith concedes is a challenge “if you’re an older adult and you’re relatively immobile or you don’t want to go out to a gym and exercise in some leotards”. (Apologies for that mental image of your elderly aunt dressed in Lycra. And apologies again for spelling it out.)
Anyway, that’s where video games come in. “Mostly video games get some very bad press,” Smith said — don’t we know it — “but video games have this quality about them that they make you want to play them continually. When you’re delivering exercise services, that’s perfect.”
Researchers have already experimented with modifying existing games such as Dance Dance Revolution for exercise training, but it’s the addition of camera-based systems like Kinect and Move which make the process really compelling. Nervous exercisers can be guided by trainers in a remote location and record their progress.
“That enables us to maximise the use of the high-speed NBN for the development of fall prevention training programs around Australia,” Smith said. “The NBN means you don’t have to leave home to go to a ‘class’.” And there’s potential for other illnesses requiring exercise and visual consultations: “We can use these kinds of games for addressing issues like stroke rehabilitation or helping people who have Parkinson’s Disease.”
High-speed broadband can dramatically improve treatment options for regional seniors. Smith gave the example of one Parkinson’s disease patient who lives in Scotts Head in NSW, and who has to make multiple bus trips to get to Coffs Harbour for a super-brief consultation with his neurologist. “That’s an entire day event for that poor chap for a 10 minute consultation. Using video conferencing and video game technology, he won’t have to do that anymore.”
Remember that the next time you’re trying to persuade Great-Uncle Alan that he’s got the whole NBN thing wrong. In the meantime, extend your sympathies to the game senior who volunteered for the inevitable picture opportunity at the Kiama launch.