Game Helps Older Adults Manage Cancer Symptoms

Game Helps Older Adults Manage Cancer Symptoms

Vicki Loerzel, PhD, RN, OCN

Older adults are not the typical gamer, but are the most common to have cancer. A new educational tool, developed by a UCF endowed professor and oncology researcher, is getting these patients into gaming to improve their quality of life.

After receiving a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2015, Victoria Loerzel and her dedicated team have worked to develop a game they hope will help patients take better care of themselves. Now ready for clinical trials, this interactive program will be piloted and tested at the UF Health Cancer Center at Orlando Health.

“It may sound simple, but a lot goes into decision-making for symptom self-management for older people,” Loerzel said. “They often don’t think about how their actions impact their symptoms.” Older adults are less likely to effectively manage chemotherapy side effects at home, placing them at greater risk for adverse events such as dehydration, weight loss, low blood pressure and more. This results in reduced daily function and an increased chance of an unplanned hospitalization.

An educational tool, Loerzel’s game was designed to help older adults improve cancer symptom management through better self-care decisions at home. By taking control of their symptom management at home, patients can reduce severe symptoms, unplanned hospital visits and, ultimately, improve quality of life.

The game will allow players to practice at-home symptom management with a character and real-life scenarios to visualize both good and bad outcomes based on their self-management choices. For example, if the character in the “game” is experiencing mild nausea from chemotherapy, the patient will have the option to choose how to manage it. They can decide to take medication, take a nap, watch TV and wait for it to pass, or do something else. Based on their answer, the nausea will either go away or get worse. After the “game” is played, the patient and their nurse will discuss the outcomes and decisions.

Once shown to be effective, Loerzel hopes this innovative educational tool will be widely used at the bedside to educate, improve symptom management at home and improve the quality of life for cancer patients struggling with symptom management.

Loerzel, who was recently appointed to an endowed professorship, is an oncology certified nurse and has been practicing for more than 20 years. She has focused much of her research on improving symptom management and quality of life for older adults with cancer. She is working with Dr. John Clochesy from the College of Nursing at the University of South Florida, Eileen Smith from E2i Creative Studio at the UCF Institute for Simulation and Training, Dr. Patricia Geddie from the UF Health Cancer Center at Orlando Health, and UCF professor Dr. Xin Yan.