‘Cybercycling’: Using videogames to help the elderly

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By Joshua Ostrer

The long-lived line “Stop playing videogames and get some exercise” might just be coming to an end thanks to Assistant Professor of Psychology Cay Anderson-Hanley. Collaborating with Paul Aciero, a professor of exercise science at Skidmore College, Anderson-Hanley has conducted a study using “exercise video games” for the elderly. Hanley employed a team of researchers, including both Union and Skidmore students, who monitored the physiological, neuropsychological and behavioral impact on seniors from eight local living centers.

The study involved 63 senior citizens, ranging from 58 to 99 years old. Participants on the cybercycles experienced 3D tours through places like Paris, California, and outer space. In addition, the participants also raced against a “ghost rider,” representing their performance on their previous trial.

The study, which had two groups of elderly adults, one using virtual-reality enhanced interactive exercise called “cybercycling,” and the other using traditional exercise bikes, had elderly participants exercise three times a week for three months. The study intends to capitalize on the competitive nature of videogames and observe its impact on exercise.

Research done has shown that exercise can prevent or delay the onset of dementia and improve cognitive function. However, just 14 percent of adults aged 65-74 and only 7 percent aged over 75 claim to exercise with any regularity. Cybercycle riders experienced a 23 percent reduction in progression to mild cognitive impairment when compared to those who only traditionally exercised. However, further research is needed.

“Further research will be needed to tease apart the contributions of a variety of factors in the cybercycling condition. Consistency across conditions for goal setting and competition suggests virtual reality imagery and interactive decision-making might be potent factors of the cybercycle,” said Cay Anderson-Hanley. Participant feedback was also recorded. “It made [exercising] a lot more fun,” said Gladys Moore, age 89, of the cybercycling group.

The study, while continuing, will be featured in the February issue of American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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