Friday, May 18, 2018

Computer Games for the Elderly

What can we do for the elderly?  Many of them languish in nursing homes when their families cannot take care of them.  Even the best nursing homes do not have enough manpower to keep them engaged sufficiently.  So many of them just sit all day, lacking the stimulation to be active, deteriorating faster than necessary.  

One of our service-learning projects aim to use technology to keep them engaged.  The team is led by a young teaching fellow who is an expert in computer games.  In addition to research and teaching, and to develop innovative computer games for young people, he is teaching a team of our students to develop computer games and gadgets to engage the elderly, to give them appropriate stimulation to move, to engage, to retain flexibility and mobility.  

Some of the games encourage the elderly to learn hand gestures that gradually reveal a pleasing photograph on screen.  They were actually originally designed for handicapped children in a special school. They worked.  Someone then pointed out that the elderly face similar challenges of fine movement, and can benefit from similar games.  So the team made adaptations to the games and tested them with the elderly in a nursing home.  

We solicited the help from an organisation specialising in helping people like us understand the constraints on the elderly to get our students to learn to work with the elderly.  With purpose-designed equipment, the students experienced walking with their backs bent, and loaded down with heavy weights, to appreciate the difficulties that they elderly are challenged with.  

Then the students went back to the drawing board and the workshop to design games and gadgets that would be attractive and appropriate for the elderly.  Instead of the keyboard, mouse, joystick, etc., they created large buttons, soft cuddly ears, and other gadgets for the elderly to control the computer games.  

We even engaged a team of primary school students to work with the elderly, to teach the grandpas and grandmas to play the games. The seniors love the kids.  There are, of courses, hiccups and failures along the way.  But by and large the children, our students, and the elderlies enjoy the experience.  Not only that our university students are learning to engage the elderly, the primary school students are getting their taste of the satisfaction of feeling useful in community engagement.  We hope that this will stay with them as they grow up.  

We keep telling our professors and students that what they do have to be befitting their status as university students.  That they have to make use of the knowledge and skills learned in university.  That the projects have to be challenging enough.  That the projects have to truly benefit the people that the serve.  That they have to learn something about themselves, the people that they serve, and the community.  I think they have succeeded in this project, and we look forward to more.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent learning for the students. So good to see service learning applied to local community work. Think Globally, Act Locally! Bravo!