- Nov 9 2016
Video games such as Nintendo Wii, for example, have been credited with getting children to be more active and providing a healthy and fun way for kids to expend their endless amounts of energy. In the medical arena, surgeons who regularly play Wii games have outperformed their peers in laparoscopic procedures as well. But perhaps the most surprising area where these benefits are popping up is within the senior community. Studies show that video games can improve memory, the ability to multi-task, cognitive health and emotional well-being.
A research team at UC San Francisco has claimed that certain types of video games can even stave off or reverse the negative effects of aging on the brain. In the study, participants in their 20s through 70s played the game NeuroRacer. The 3D game tasked players with steering a car down a windy road with one hand and simultaneously knocking down signs with the other hand. The group of seniors, between 60 and 85, were then trained for a total of 12 hours over a 4-week period of time. As they improved, the game became more challenging.
At the end of the study, the group of seniors outperformed the untrained group of 20-year-olds. Moreover, when seniors’ brain waves were measured while playing, their brain activity began to resemble that of much younger individuals. Researchers noted a significant boost in a key neurological network linked to the ability to pursue one’s goals. Study leaders concluded that playing the game can alter brain plasticity – or the ability to change over time.
Similar studies have also proven that video games can improve moods, levels of emotional healthy, boost well-being and lower depression levels among seniors. One study, conducted by the University of Iowa has concluded that specially-designed video games can even delay the decline of cognitive skills by as much as seven years. And yet another study has shown that gaming can improve upper arm strength by 14 percent and motor function by 20 percent among senior stroke patients.
But what is so special about video games? What benefits can video games provide that other types of brain exercises – such as crossword puzzles or Sudoku – cannot? Experts cite the fact that video games have the benefit of being adaptable. Higher functioning seniors, for example, can play at more challenging levels, while those who struggle can choose to lessen the challenge. Moreover, many games are designed to get more and more difficult as the player improves – preventing the brain from going into autopilot mode once the player gets the hang of it.
Games can also be designed to pinpoint certain types of brain function. For example, NeuroRacer’s multi-tasking element of driving with one hand and knocking down signs with the other hand helps players strengthen their ability to switch between tasks while still remaining focused. The opportunity to strengthen these cognitive abilities could eventually be used to help individuals with other types of cognitive deficits such as ADHD, depression, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
As the positive results pour in from researchers, perhaps it is time for seniors to put away the crochet needles or word puzzles and pick up the video game controller.
Video games rot the brain. They foster lazy, sedentary behavior. In the past, video games have gotten a pretty bad rap . But as more resources are poured into studying the positive aspects of gaming, the benefits, it turns out, are numerous – especially for seniors.
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