Home > HCD Bright Spots, Wellness Programming, WellnessGaming > Embedding Wellness into Active Games: Bob Hone

Embedding Wellness into Active Games: Bob Hone

Ben Sawyer is founder of Games For Health, an organization that brings together researchers, medical professionals and game developers to share information on games to promote heath and health care. He’s been a leader and catalyst to awareness and innovation in the field – and one of the most generous leaders with his time, network and expertise.  As the saying goes, “ask a busy person.” 

Sawyer has long recognized that there is a market opportunity for physical and cognitive therapy games.  “Our annual Games for Health conference now devotes an entire section to rehabilitation. The possibilities go far beyond the physical.” 

People who suffer psychological trauma in an automobile or other accident can actually return to the scene in a virtual way, preparing them to engage again in everyday activities, he said. 

“In terms of revenues, look at Wii Fit,” an exercise game. “It came out of nowhere and made over $1 billion. But even if a game makes several million dollars, if it doesn’t improve the health of the user,  we would consider it a failure,” said Mr. Sawyer. 

We agree.  That is key to our solid commitment and laser focus on always starting any community project with “programming.”  A program, even as much as we appreciate interactive gaming, must always be delivered in a manner that is appropriate for the age band and condition of the target user.  Even when the program option is well designed it must engage the user, be delivered in an environment that connects wellness and social needs of the participant, and be consistently delivered and quantified.  Once those parameters are met the program can be considered for prescription by healthcare providers and insurers. 

One program we learned of recently was developed by the team at Redhill Studios.   The National Institutes of Health has awarded $1.1 million in stimulus grants to Red Hill Studios in San Rafael toward developing an interactive game to improve movement in people with Parkinson’s. 

“These grants are the start of what may become a massive new area of health care,” said Bob Hone, Red Hill founder and creative director. The emergence of low-cost motion-sensing technologies plus growing appreciation of the effectiveness of interactive video have spurred the development of a whole new form of rehabilitation: physical therapy games. Red Hill partnered with the UCSF School of Nursing to develop the Parkinson’s games. 

 “The challenge of developing any serious game, whether it be for education, training or therapy, is to find the ‘area of maximal engagement,’ where the task is challenging enough so that it isn’t boring, yet not so challenging that the task is frustrating,” said Mr. Hone. 

According to Glenna Dowling, chair of the UCSF Department of Physiological Nursing, as the baby boomer population ages, the incidence of Parkinson’s disease will increase dramatically, impacting health care costs and quality of life for millions of people. “Yet very little research has been done on using interactive technology for these people,” she said, adding that the Red Hill games were well-received by study participants. 

This is key to long term compliance with any wellness program:  Participants must trust the benefit of the program, enjoy the process of participation and recognize, value and embrace the wellness outcomes that improve their quality of life.  The team at Redhill Studios has provided an incredible opportunity in rehab for those with Parkinson’s.

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