Research trials and case reports have suggested that the Nintendo Wii video game system might be a useful falls reduction tool. The WiiFit™ has games that seem promising for the development of balance skills, and is increasingly popular for recreation at senior centers, continuing care retirement communities, and other community settings. Also promising is the Wii’s optional balance board that records the user’s balance measurements, which some researchers think may be used for the assessment of falls risk. However, previous studies of the WiiFit have used custom-designed games, and not the standard, commercially available software. A study, reported in the publication Gait & Posture, assesses the viability of the WiiFit balance board for the assessment of balance and other mobility skills.
The study involved 34 older adults who live independently in the community and were involved in a 24-week cardiovascular exercise program. At two different points during the program, participants conducted a variety of standard balance and mobility assessments, including some brief agility tests often used to assess falls risk. In addition to a variety of cardiovascular and agility tests, participants took the Wii’s balance tests, which provides a set of balance scores. The researchers examined the statistical relationships between the various tests in order to see if the WiiFit system can be used as a reliable test of balance, and to see if any other mobility- and falls-related skills were reliably associated with the Wii balance scores.
Unfortunately, the scores provided by the WiiFit system did not correlate with the standardized measures of balance and mobility. (This may be due to the relatively small sample size; however, the sample was probably large enough to detect a strong relationship between the scores.) The Wii balance scores did, however, correlate with a test of visual processing speed, suggesting that the Wii balance tests provide some useful information. The processing of visual information is an important aspect of balance and mobility, so the Wii balance scores may be useful in addition to standardized tests of falls risks. Based on current knowledge, the Wii appears more useful as a way to encourage physical play than as a potential clinical assessment device, but users who are concerned about their mobility and falls might find balance scores useful for monitoring their own balance skills.