Feasibility and effects of virtual reality motor-cognitive training in community-dwelling older people with cognitive frailty: Pilot randomized controlled trial

Rick Yiu Cho Kwan (Corresponding Author), Justina Yat Wa Liu, Kenneth Nai Kuen Fong, Jing Qin, Philip Kwok Yuen Leung, Olive Suk Kan Sin, Pik Yuen Hon, Lydia W. Suen, Man Kei Tse, Claudia K.Y. Lai

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background: Cognitive frailty refers to the coexistence of physical frailty and cognitive impairment, and is associated with many adverse health outcomes. Although cognitive frailty is prevalent in older people, motor-cognitive training is effective at enhancing cognitive and physical function. We proposed a virtual reality (VR) simultaneous motor-cognitive training program, which allowed older people to perform daily activities in a virtual space mimicking real environments. Objective: We aimed to (1) explore the feasibility of offering VR simultaneous motor-cognitive training to older people with cognitive frailty and (2) compare its effects with an existing motor-cognitive training program in the community on the cognitive function and physical function of older people with cognitive frailty. Methods: A two-arm (1:1), assessor-blinded, parallel design, randomized controlled trial was employed. The eligibility criteria for participants were: (1) aged ≥60 years, (2) community dwelling, and (3) with cognitive frailty. Those in the intervention group received cognitive training (ie, cognitive games) and motor training (ie, cycling on an ergometer) simultaneously on a VR platform, mimicking the daily living activities of older people. Those in the control group received cognitive training (ie, cognitive games) on tablet computers and motor training (ie, cycling on the ergometer) sequentially on a non-VR platform. Both groups received a 30-minute session twice a week for 8 weeks. Feasibility was measured by adherence, adverse outcomes, and successful learning. The outcomes were cognitive function, physical frailty level, and walking speed. Results: Seventeen participants were recruited and randomized to either the control group (n=8) or intervention group (n=9). At baseline, the median age was 74.0 years (IQR 9.5) and the median Montreal Cognitive Assessment score was 20.0 (IQR 4.0). No significant between-group differences were found in baseline characteristics except in the number of chronic illnesses (P=.04). At postintervention, the intervention group (Z=-2.67, P=.01) showed a significantly larger improvement in cognitive function than the control group (Z=-1.19, P=.24). The reduction in physical frailty in the intervention group (Z=-1.73, P=.08) was similar to that in the control group (Z=-1.89, P=.06). Improvement in walking speed based on the Timed Up-and-Go test was moderate in the intervention group (Z=-0.16, P=.11) and greater in the control group (Z=-2.52, P=.01). The recruitment rate was acceptable (17/33, 52%). Both groups had a 100% attendance rate. The intervention group had a higher completion rate than the control group. Training was terminated for one participant (1/9, 11%) due to minimal VR sickness (Virtual Reality Sickness Questionnaire score=18.3/100). Two participants (2/8, 25%) in the control group withdrew due to moderate leg pain. No injuries were observed in either group. Conclusions: This study provides preliminary evidence that the VR simultaneous motor-cognitive training is effective at enhancing the cognitive function of older people with cognitive frailty. The effect size on frailty was close to reaching a level of significance and was similar to that observed in the control group. VR training is feasible and safe for older people with cognitive frailty.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere28400
JournalJMIR Serious Games
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 6 Aug 2021


  • Cognitive frailty
  • Feasibility
  • Frail
  • Game
  • Motor-cognitive training
  • Older adults
  • Pilot study
  • Randomized controlled trial
  • Training
  • Virtual reality
  • VR

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Rehabilitation
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biomedical Engineering

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