Walking tied to word game may boost seniors' activity

Seniors using the iPad while walking gave positive feedback to researchers at UC-Berkeley.
Seniors using the iPad while walking gave positive feedback to researchers at UC-Berkeley.

An iPad-based game connecting seniors with walking is showing promise and being evaluated for a larger community trial, according to a feasibility study.

In an initial evaluation, University of California-Berkeley scientists used the game, called Word Walk, with multiple person teams of older adults. Teams of two to three adults followed a half-mile walking route around neighborhood streets that was displayed on the team iPad.  The researchers were led by William A. Satariano, Ph.D., MPH, School of Public Health, University of California.

Once the team reached a preselected point, four random letters appeared on the screen. At the end, the teams could collect 24 letters, each with a numeric value, from six designated locations. 

Back at the senior center, teams had 15 minutes to construct as many words as possible via the iPad. The program totaled points based on the value of the letters used to construct each word, similar to Scrabble.

While the study was small, results and feedback are being used to create a larger pilot study, according to results published in Annals of Gerontology and Geriatric Research. Many of the seniors said they appreciated forming new friendships through the program, and said the end of the project saddened them, the researchers reported. Those who participated in a greater number of Word Walk sessions achieved higher scores.

The research reflects how technology can boost activity in seniors. Between 35% and 44% of adults over age 75 are physically active, with an even lower rate of around 30% among the 65- to 74-year-old cohort, the researchers noted. 

While technology is increasingly being used to monitor health status in these groups, such as nurse call alerts being sent via text messaging, there's less evidence that seniors embrace using applications directly.