iPad used to check mobility in seniors

By Molly Merrill
04:57 PM

Mobility is a "vital" sign that should be regularly checked in adults over the age of sixty, and according to two health and exercise science professors at Wake Forest University, the iPad is just the tool for the job.

Mobility is closely linked to overall health and quality of life, but healthcare professionals have not had an easy and effective way to assess it.

That's why professors Tony Marsh and Jack Rejeski with the help of colleagues in the computer science department (Yue-Ling Wong) and Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center (Eddie Ip), developed the Mobility Assessment Tool (MAT).

MAT, which was created for the iPad and PC, assesses mobility in older adults using video animation rather than written questions. The whole process takes about four minutes to complete. The score provides information that helps older adults better understand their current mobility and can provide a yardstick to monitor changes in how well they get around.

Using an iPad or PC, older adults watch short videos of animated figures performing everyday tasks such as climbing stairs or walking while carrying a bag of groceries. The videos help senior citizens picture themselves doing these tasks. They then use the touch screen to indicate what they can and cannot do.

"In pilot testing, we found that the animation technology allowed older adults to project themselves into the tasks," Marsh says. "This removed potential biases that would have occurred if actual people had been filmed doing the tasks."

Marsh and Rejeski say the MAT is a quick, simple and cost-effective way to accurately measure mobility and may help practitioners plan appropriate interventions to remediate limitations. They envision the elderly getting "activity prescriptions" to improve their physical function based on the results of the Mobility Assessment Test.

The MAT could also be administered in the waiting room before a patient talks to the physician, the professors say.

"This is a tool that could be used quickly in a physician's office or out in the field," says Rejeski, who has found the MAT to be useful in his research on older adults and mobility.

Using animation instead of actors makes the tool more adaptable and less expensive. Its touch screen technology also dramatically decreases the time of test taking. The benefits of the technology allows for greater flexibility in altering the form, speed and environmental parameters of mobility-related tasks, opening up a wide range of possibilities for future research questions, said Marsh and Rejeski.

The MAT will be used by researchers involved in the LIFE study, a major multi-year project funded by the National Institutes of Health that is designed to determine the effects of physical activity and successful aging interventions on major mobility disability. Recently Marsh and Rejeski have also been asked to collaborate in a cross-cultural study of mobility in older adults with researchers from Canada, Brazil and Columbia that will use the MAT.

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