Nursing home Witte Meren: Making exercising fun for the elderly

The user

Nursing Home Witte Meren is located in Mol, a city with a population of 35,395 in the Belgian province of Antwerp. Currently, the nursing home cares for 133 customers.

The challenge

How can I make it fun and safe for my customers to be physically active?” With this question in mind, Jan Smolders, Director of Nursing Home Witte Meren, explored new options for the elderly to keep healthy and independent for longer, through exercise.

Like all nursing homes, Witte Meren is equipped with a physiotherapy room where residents can use various fitness devices to exercise. But the nursing home indoors environment is not very stimulating. Furthermore, because of restrictions related to old age, outdoor activities are not always an option.

With life expectancy on the rise, especially in the last decades, keeping the elderly engaged in physical activity does not only increase their quality of life, improving self-reliance and self-image, but also lowers healthcare costs.

The satellite solution

The solution started with a hobby project by Jan Smolders and his brother Roel and two IT specialists from the Catholic University of Louvain. A couple of innovation awards and a bit of media attention later, things rapidly got more serious. In December 2015, the four launched “Activ84Health”, a system allowing the elderly to virtually explore towns and the countryside while cycling on a stationary bike.

The simulation system relies on Google Street View, cloud-based software and touchscreen controls. Images from Google Street View are captured by a video camera with several lenses mounted to a geodesic globe. Geographical coordinates are recorded through satellite navigation and are used to transform the single images into a 360° view. 

The Activ84Health Explorer is built to suit each individual’s needs on how to engage in physical activity. The residents of the nursing home cycle in front of a giant screen. Users can virtually travel to any place available on Google Street View and can also select a predefined route with automatic navigation, which allows also users with physical and/or cognitive restrictions to have fun and share memories.

Each user has an individual profile, which allows the platform to take into account personal physical and cognitive abilities. If users move quickly, they will progress quickly through a street; if they move slowly, progression slows down. If the users stop moving, the Activ84Health Explorer also halts and there is time to look around and explore the scenery.

The results

Residents at Witte Meren are enthusiastic about their new training facility. The Activ84Health Explorer has proved to be so successful that customers are queuing to use it.

Virtually navigating through the streets, users can chase memories and tell stories about their past while getting valuable physical health benefits. The feedback provided by the customers at the Nursing Home Witte Meren was very positive and the system has been sold to another 20 nursing homes, hospitals and care structures in Belgium and in the Netherlands since April 2016.

We all are aware that the ageing population is growing rapidly. Yet, there is very little technology specifically designed for that population.”Jan Smolders, Director of Nursing Home Witte Meren