The video game dance craze that has excited millions of young Australians could help dramatically cut the number of falls injuries and fatal accidents suffered by older people – and create a new industry at the same time.
A modified version of the popular "Dance Dance Revolution" video game, featuring a special dance mat, is already paving the way for possible joint ventures between the video game development industry and medical researchers.
Patients using the dance mat are guided through a series of steps on a video screen with music to train them to regain or improve their balance.
As part of the ongoing research with the dance mat, there are plans to place 50 of them in family homes across the country and monitor their use by older Australians.
The initiative follows presentations by Neuroscience Research Australia researchers Dr. Stuart Smith on the use of the dance mat and Prof. Penny McNulty on the use of the Nintendo Wii with post-stroke patients at a Games For Health Forum at the Game Connect Asia Pacific conference in Melbourne.
"Falls are the leading cause of injury related deaths and hospitalisation in older adults. From 60 onwards people suffer falls in increasing numbers and one in ten results in death," Dr. Stuart Smith, who is also Chair of a Games for Health interest group within the Health Informatics Society of Australia, said today.
"The cost of falls injuries to the community is more than $330 million a year, compared with $62 million for road traffic injuries and $40 million for sports injuries."
As a result of the presentations, researchers from NeuRA and some of Australia’s leading video games developers will this week set up a working party to seek private and government investment to develop video games that can be used to address health issues such as falls in older adults and upper limb function in stroke patients.
"The use of video games to address health issues is gaining momentum worldwide and we are very well placed in Australia to significantly contribute to this area as we have both world class game developers and medical researchers."
Two of the Australian games development companies involved in the talks are Taurus Games and Tantalus.
He said game development company executives at the forum had already looked into, and were excited by, the possibility of bringing their expertise into the health domain.
"It was clear to us that there are exciting commercial and medical opportunities and Australian game developers themselves are keen to move forward on this," Dr. Smith added.
Watch the television interview with Dr Smith on Channel Ten online.