Hit it! Come on! Keep it coming! The cheering from the enthusiastic crowd ringside rises in volume. The opponent in the boxing ring is shaken, but soon recovers. A knock-out in extra time brings home the victory and the cheering rises to fever pitch!
We are in Drammen Public Library. On the second floor, a large gaming screen has been mounted. At the moment, boxing is on. Four cheerful elderly ladies have gathered around the screen. Applause and laughter resound. Randi Dale is hitting with her right and left.
“This works well against bingo wings as well as aggression!” she sums up after having finally floored her opponent. Villa Frederikke in the city of Drammen, is an open day-time facility for people who suffer from early dementia but are still living at home. Since 2010, Drammen Public Library has cooperated with this institution with trials of computer games for seniors.
Key cooperation partner
“In the beginning, there was a lot of scepticism,” says Beate Magerholm from Villa Frederikke, “but the Tuesday bowling soon became incredibly popular, and our guests absolutely didn’t want to miss it. People get really enthusiastic, there is much laughter and high spirits. Between the rounds of bowling are breaks for soup or coffee. The one with the most strikes or points wins a lottery ticket. That too is immeasurably popular,” Beate smiles.
“Villa Frederikke has been a super cooperation partner for us. In 2010, when we wanted to develop a gaming option for the seniors, there was much that we knew little about. We needed a place where we could test out our ideas and receive some feedback. People with dementia may have difficulties with spatial orientation, and may have trouble operating a hand-held console,” says Lena Hillestad at Drammen Public Library.
“Villa Frederikke helped provide knowledge on dementia, so that we could make special provisions for this group. We found that Xbox Kinect was highly suitable. Hand-held consoles, boards to stand on and other equipment proved to be unnecessary. Boxing and bowling are games that suit most people. Among the users of Villa Frederikke, bowling was the game that really caught on. Moreover, for people with dementia, blue is the one colour in which contrasts are most easily discernible. Thus, blue is a recurring colour in the material that presents the Seniorgamer programme,” she continues.
A zone of their own
Drammen Public Library has established a separate zone intended for games for elderly people. On the same floor, there is also a collection of books that tend to attract this group, such as books on local history and health issues.
“Here in Drammen, we are lucky to have a lot of space at our disposal, although not much space is really required to make provisions for such a gaming zone for seniors,” Library Director Monica Nyhus, says. “Flexibility would be a keyword in this context,” she continues.
The gaming screen is mounted on wheels and can easily be moved around.
Gaming options for seniors
Fact remains, however, that there are far more health institutions than libraries around the country that provide a gaming option to the elderly.
“The health institutions have probably seen that gains can be had when the option is easily accessible, not very resource-intensive and able to raise the spirits,” Lena Hillestad says.
“Now, we are also starting to receive inquiries from other libraries that are curious about this. Yesterday, in fact, we had a call from Voss Public Library, which intends to launch gaming for seniors and wanted to hear about the experience gained here in Drammen.”
“The games are engaging and create an important sense of mastery,” says Monica Nyhus.
“Providing gaming activities to the older generation is also a method of acquainting them with new technology. Here, the libraries possess considerable competence. We wish to provide the seniors with courses in the use of tablet computers and services such as Skype, which is an excellent way to stay in touch with family members who may live some distance away. Seniorgamer has produced major ripple effects. It’s about creating happy moments, and even more than that, it’s about enriching lives.”
A national model
At Drammen Public Library, they are asking themselves how Seniorgamer could be made an option for libraries nationwide.
“To develop a good model, we need to cooperate with different types of libraries. With this in mind, we have entered into cooperation agreements with Risør and Bergen Public Libraries,” Monica Nyhus says.
“In addition to needing enthusiastic employees, such a project must be firmly anchored in the municipal organization and requires close collaboration with volunteers. Seniorgamer has signed a letter of intent with Seniornett Norge. Other cooperation partners will be volunteer centres, the Red Cross, dementia associations or similar organizations.”
Lena Hillestad explains that Drammen Public Library has plans to produce a handbook for libraries and institutions that wish to establish Seniorgamer. Such a handbook will also contain facts on dementia and the special needs that accompany the disease. The handbook will be available in digital format on the library’s website.
“Libraries around the country wanting to know more are welcome to contact us,” she says. “We are more than happy to talk about it!”
This interview is an abbreviated version of an interview published in Norwegian in Bibliotheca Nova no. 3-2013 (Publisher: National Library of Norway)