Benefits of Video Games for the Elderly

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Video gaming has evolved from being merely kids entertainment, and now has found its way into the grandparents game selection. This due to new research that has demonstrated a relationship between brain functions such as visual-motor tracking, selective attention, and memory challenges that can now be enhanced by video games.

From the time you reach your late 40`s or early 50`s, working memory fades, and the ability to perform many tasks at the same time ( multitasking ) becomes more difficult, focus is lost and mental reaction slows down. A respected brain training game developer ( EVO ) has shown that their games actually help aging brains behave like younger.

NeuroRacer: A New Dawn?

According to a study published in 2013 by the journal Nature, video games may help retain cognitive functions. Researchers from the University of California in San Francisco developed a videogame called NeuroRacer, which creates a 3D environment that targets multitasking skills Рengaging the individual rapidly and accurately in a high interference 3D environment that uses adaptive algorithms to simultaneously challenge players on two tasks, navigating and responding to specific signs. It is considered the first cognitive optimization video game, developed by the Gazzaley Lab and game professionals from Lucas Arts.

demonstrating neuroracer with an elderly woman
Testing Neuroracer with a senior woman

The initial test of the game had 174 individuals in their 20`s and 70`s , all wired to EEG caps that measured brain electrical activity. After training, the older adults showed improvements in their multitasking skills, and maintained this skill for 6 months with no further practice.

Another study involving adults aged 60 to 77, researchers studied the effects of playing World of Warcraft on the aging mind. After the two-week gaming period, the group that initially scored less improved the most in scores of spatial ability and cognitive focus. The researchers concluded that WoW ( World of Warcraft ) could enhance neural plasticity in older adults.

Variety is the Key

Existing research shows that novelty is a catalyst for learning, according to Anne McLaughlin, PhD, psychologist at North Carolina State University. Completely new tasks form new pathways in your brain. So it seems more likely that something challenging and new would be a lot more effective than something that`s challenging but you`ve been doing it forever. Basically put, trying new games is more effective than doing the same thing for years.

Slowing The Aging Process

Retirement homes across the country are adding Wii nights with tennis, bowling, and other sports to help seniors stay active, while training their brain with those activities. Although playing games can`t ward off disease like Alzheimer or Dementia, it might be able to slow the progression of the symptoms to some extent. Older people get a lot of benefit from Wii games that keep them active and their brain challenged.

brain scan showing frontal theta activity
Brain scan showing frontal theta activity.

Exergaming

Combining video games and exercising ( exergaming ) is something common nowadays, to improve elderly balance and decrease fall risk. The enjoyable, challenging nature of exergaming increases motivation and could support long term adherence for exercising balance.

The direct effects of it on postural control is still to be determined, and a six-week study aimed to assess its effect on elderly people. Within the first 2 weeks of training, the dot task improved, showing good results.

This shows that elderly can benefit from a videogame-based exercise to improve balance, and it has the added bonus of being enjoyable.

Of course, this is no substitute for medicine, at least not yet. Many in the scientific community are still waiting for new results of studies by several respected researchers. Neuropsychologist Glenn Smith of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN says the brain appears to be able to modify its structure and develop new skills over the course of a lifetime.

A New Perspective on Video Games

French biologist Daphne Bavelier ( PhD, MIT ), an internationally recognized expert on human learning, was the main lecturer at a TEDx presentation titled ” Your brains on action games”, aimed at deconstructing the wrongful perception that video games are just mind-numbing, and instead shows us how video gaming can enhance several aspects of behavior.

Brain training games are now a $1.3 billion market in the US alone. A customer survey conducted by PopCap Games found that 71% of its players are older than 40, 47% are older than 50, and 76% are women. Research has proven that playing a complex strategy game like Rise of Nations improved memory and cognitive skills.

Video: NeuroScape Lab

Certain games can help improve split-second decision making, hand-eye coordination, and in some cases, auditory perception, according to MD Ezriel Kornel, a brain and spine surgeon. “Anytime the brain is in learning mode”, Kornel says, “there are new synapses forming between the neurons. So you`re creating thousands of connections that can then be applied to other tasks as well.”

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