In 2006, the EU-funded ElderGames project began creating a hi-tech computerized play platform designed for the elderly. The primary purpose of the project was to provide social and cognitive stimulus for older people as well as give early clues of cognitive impairment to their caretakers. There was a secondary purpose as well: to find a way to make the elderly get over their fear of technology so they would enjoy participating in the games.
Malena Fabregat, the coordinator of ElderGames commented, “Play is good in itself, but the challenge was to allow the users to train what the experts told us were the most important cognitive abilities in this period of life. Even with the first prototype, which had lots of cables and cameras, after five or ten minutes they had absolutely forgotten about the technology.”
Fabregat's team held extensive trials in order to come up with a winning solution that is attractive, interactive, stimulating, and fun. ElderGame can also keep track of the elderly participant's mental skills.
In order to be able to track individual players, the researchers mounted multiple cameras on risers at each corner of the gaming table while players used handheld pointers to designate their choices or moves within the games. The combination of cameras and pointers helped the players to interact in a natural manner while providing a virtual display. The gaming table surface is, for the most part, made up of a large plasma or LCD display and there are niches on each side of the table to enable easy reach to every part of the game.
The ElderGame team developed 20 games that would help keep important cognitive skills sharp, for instance, staying attentive and focused, planning, problem-solving, decision-making, memory, and fine motor skills. The team also developed tracking software to monitor the functioning of each elderly individual, which, it is hoped, can provide caregivers with an early warning of any important cognitive changes.
A prototype of the game table along with the suite of games has already been tested in Spain, the UK, and Norway. The researchers believe the system promotes healthy, active aging. Even though the elderly participants were aware that their activity with ElderGame was monitored, they felt comfortable to participate because the games are fun, and the table is well-designed for their comfort.
Occupational therapist Amparo Ruiz, from Galicia, Spain, helped to supervise some of the trials performed on ElderGame in the field. She was impressed and excited about the gaming system, "The elderly people like it when they play and feel integrated into the new technologies, and for me it’s very important that I can get information about their attention, memory and other functions while they are playing, and then choose games that emphasize the areas where they have problems."
Fabregat and her colleagues would like to see ElderGames reach a wider audience of seniors and their caregivers. Companies in Europe, North America, and India have expressed interest in the ElderGame system.