The study was led by Dr Ross Clark of the Department of Physiotherapy at the University of Melbourne and published online in December in the international journal Gait and Posture.
Worldwide, approximately one in three people over the age of 65 fall at least once each year. Of these people, between 10% and 30% suffer a serious injury such as a fracture or head trauma.
“The elderly and people suffering neurological conditions have impaired standing balance. This has a detrimental affect on their ability to function and increases their risk of falling,” Dr Clark says.
“There is currently no validated assessment system which can precisely measure centre of pressure (COP) an important component of standing balance, while being inexpensive, portable and widely available.”
A number of assessment protocols have been devised to test balance and vulnerability to falls. These predominantly use a force plate, which measures how much a person sways during normal standing.
Dr Clark says: “These are very effective, but also expensive, difficult to set up and cumbersome to transport.”
The unique study compared the balance data derived from the Nintendo Wii Balance Board with the data collected from a laboratory grade force plate, a metal based system which typically costs more than $20,000.
“We found that the Nintendo Wii Balance Board collects data comparable to the force plate, but has the added benefit of being a low-cost, simple to use, wireless and portable device for assessing balance,“ Dr Clark says.
Thirty young injury free individuals participated in the study to assess the board’s effectiveness and were asked to perform a number of balance tests on separate occasions.
“Given that standing balance is an important predictor of likelihood of falling, this could provide a tool that clinicians and GPs can use in their medical practice as a potential injury screening tool, “he says.
“Of course, balance testing and rehabilitation using Nintendo Wii Balance Board based systems will not prevent all falls. However, there is good reason to believe that a significant proportion of falls could either be prevented entirely or postponed.
“Using the balance tests as a diagnostic tool could also help in the early and more accurate detection of neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. This would lead to enhanced quality of life in our world’s aging population.”
Dr Clark is also conducting studies using the Nintendo Wii Balance Board for assessing functionality of young children born prematurely, people suffering brain injury and elite athletes.
Rebecca Scott Media Officer
University of Melbourne