Physiotherapy, High-Tech Style

Video conferencing seen as a boon to senior citizens
By Ryan Baker

Usually found only in boardrooms and business offices, video conferencing is making its way into the homes of senior citizens, who can now receive physiotherapy without having to leave their homes.

PACE 2000 International Foundation, an Ottawa-based charity working to improve seniors' communication with the rest of the community, has developed new software that makes video conferencing easier.

The organization played host to a video conference this week at the Perley and Rideau Veteran Health Centre to show off the breakthrough, celebrate the success of a pilot project that began in January in which seniors were given physiotherapy via video conference contact between seniors and youth.

Patrick Haldorsen exercises in front of
a screen which shows his image during
a PACE 2000 video conference at the
Perley and Rideau Veterans' Health Centre

Connecting to a video conference from a computer using a digital land line used to be a six or seven step process, says Mathias Fruhwirth, the electrical engineer who designed the new software. But now it can be done in two or three.

"Instead of the boardroom," says Mr. Fruhwirth, "we now have video conferencing in the living room. We have people who have undergone surgery who can benefit from face-to-face communications using technology that is typically reserved for corporations and government."

Among PACE 2000's sponsors are the Ministry of Energy, Science and Technology, Bell Canada, Microsoft and Corel Corp.

The setup includes a personal computer or television set equipped with a large track-ball that makes pointing and clicking easier for people with arthritis, a telephone line, a tiny video camera atop the monitor and a microphone.

To connect, turn the computer or television on, make one click with the track-ball to access your list of telephone numbers and make one more click to call a name. If that person's computer or television is on, his or her image will appear on your screen and the conference begins.

"From a physio point of view, it was very, very good," says John Morrison, 75, who had knee-replacement surgery in April and did physiotherapy for a range of movement was measured accurately because his chair was put in the same place very time, on four marks on the floor.

"In the future," says Mr Albert, "I hope to see these computers out for people who can't get to the hospitals, who are in remote areas. They'll have great service even though they don't have to go to the hospital."

This happens to be exactly what PACE 2000 is working on now. Still limited to digital land lines, the organization hopes to go wireless soon, which would make video conferencing available virtually everywhere.

In addition to medical uses, video conferencing can help seniors make contact with younger people, something Dr. Marie-Madeleine Bernard, president of PACE 2000, says is much needed.

Also a medical consultant for Health Canada, she says many seniors feel isolated from the community and this hurts their health.

"Anything you an do to bring back the seniors into the mainstream of the community will make them healthier." Video conferencing is a way to do that, said Dr. Bernard.

"It gives them more reason for living," agrees Jean Vautour, who sits on the board of directors at PACE 2000. "Rather than playing cards and bingo in their spare time, they can really be participating in the whole world".

The video conference included an opening statement from New York by United Nations officer DR Alexandre Sidorenko, the person in charge of the International Year of the Older Person, an initiative designed to raise awareness about the world`s aging population; discussion between war veterans in Ottawa and Paris; and songs performed by Ottawa students from St. Marguerite d'Youville School.

PACE 2000 projects continue. Organization officials have applied to the Ontario Ministry of Energy, Science and Technology to enrol 240 patients, including some from Baffin Island, to receive treatment via video conferencing. If approved, the project could be under way by October.

Home About Newsletter Contributors PUBLICATIONS Other Sites Gallery

PACE 2000 International Fondation