New technology research may allow you to play games to keep your heart healthy

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Photo Credit: Bixie Mathieu | Daily Texan Staff

Nursing researchers, software developers and engineers at UT are collaborating to create a digital game aimed at helping heart failure patients manage their health. 

Nearly five million Americans are living with heart failure, and approximately 550,000 new cases are diagnosed in the U.S. every year, according to Emory Healthcare.

“Eating a really high-fat high-salt diet, not being physically active and genetics can contribute to the onset of heart disease,” said Kavita Radhakrishnan, assistant professor of nursing and researcher on the project.

The team, which also includes Matthew O’Hair, software developer and co-founder of Good Life Games, and Christine Julien, an electrical and computer engineering professor, is creating an app game that will focus on increasing exercise and weight monitoring in heart failure patients. 

“We want to motivate real life behaviors by playing a game,” Radhakrishnan said. “One symptom indicating crisis in heart failure is weight gain, and we want to encourage people to get in the habit of taking their weight everyday so they can monitor any changes in their health.”

The basic idea is that heart failure patients will use trackers that send data to the game, and their game progress will be based on what they do in real life. This could be by exercising to gain points in the game or monitoring their weight on a scale with bluetooth.

“We’re looking at how to take wearable devices and gather health information so the game can make queries about the health status of the patients,” Julien said.

Radhakrishnan said the idea for the game came out of a pilot study in which heart failure patients played casino games. Instead of advertisements popping up, patients would see educational information on how to manage their heart failure.

 

“It was very exciting to see that their knowledge had improved significantly even though they had been diagnosed with heart failure for over ten years,” Radhakrishnan said. “Usually, patients get papers and brochures and they will not look at them, but because this information was provided in small chunks through the game, they were engaging with it much more.”

Radhakrishnan said it can be a challenge for patients to maintain their health while also managing other life challenges, and this game can be a fun and interactive way for patients to pay attention to their health.

“Our goal is not to cure the disease; we want to help people engage in healthier behaviors so they can have a better quality of life,” Radhakrishnan said. “What this game is trying to do is to give patients information and motivation.”

Once the beta version of the game is finished, a small study funded by the National Institutes of Health will be conducted to see whether the game will make an impact on the health outcomes and life quality of heart failure patients. 

O’Hair said he encourages more project-based collaboration between different fields, such as nursing, engineering and technology.

“This kind of cross-disciplinary collaboration has a high chance of resulting in something of real, lasting value,” O’Hair said.