More Evidence Suggests Video Games are Good for Older Minds and Bodies

Yet another study suggests that playing video games can help keep members of the Medicare population sharp and well-coordinated.


Published a few months ago in the journal Nature, a University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) study concludes that video games appear to help older people develop or maintain improved cognitive control, or physical interaction with their environment.

Space InvadersThe UCSF study involved the roughly year-long development of a game called NeuroRacer, which was designed specifically for the study.

The Wall Street Journal describes the game as requiring the player to navigate “a racecar along a winding track, while also hitting a button on a controller, whenever a green circle appears. As the user improves, the game adapts to maintain a consistent level of difficulty. The game is designed to challenge a person’s multitasking ability — to push them to switch between distinct tasks, rapidly and accurately.”

After development, NeuroRacer was tested on a selection of people aged from their 20s through their 70s. Initial testing documented a decline in multitasking ability with advanced age.

From there, 46 subjects aged 60-85 played a version of NeuroRacer for a total of 12 hours over the course of a month. According to the study, these subjects attained multitasking levels superior to levels achieved by 20-year-olds who did not have training with NeuroRacer.

The study also indicates subjects 60-85 years old maintained that increased multitasking level six months after the month-long training period was over.

According to the study, benefits of NeuroRacer training were not limited to game-related performance. As CBS News reports, people aged 60-85 who trained with NeuroRacer showed improved performance in attention and memory tests that were not connected with the game, and showed signs of brain activity resembling that of younger people.

Dr. Adam Gazzaley, UCSF associate professor of neurology, physiology, and psychiatry, and co-author of the study, attributes these results to the plasticity, or adaptability, of older brains—which seems to suggest that it’s never too late to sharpen a mind.

The UCSF study follows earlier studies that arrived at similar conclusions.

A 2008 University of Illinois study concluded that adults in their 60s showed increased mental sharpness and memory as a result of playing certain video games. The study also suggested that improved abilities developed by playing the games could carry over into real life.

A 2010 study at Tohoku University in Japan concluded that elderly participants assigned to play certain video games for a brief period five days a week showed improved cognitive skills in several areas.

A 2010 study at North Carolina’s Elon University went further, suggesting seniors could benefit physically from playing video games. Specifically, the study suggested older people struggling to play certain sports in the traditional way could yield many of the same benefits, including improved strength and balance, by playing those same sports in a virtual, or electronic, manner.

According to HolidayTouch.com, a website devoted to retirement issues, other studies have suggested electronic games can help older Americans combat depression and mental health issues, improve balance, achieve elevated heart rates, and improve alertness.

Many people associate game benefits for people of Medicare age with specific games such as Nintendo’s Brain Age and Wii games. Brain Age involves such activities as puzzle-solving, memory tests, and math and recognition exercises, and similar games are available online for free. Wii games, meanwhile, often provide the opportunity to play familiar sports or games all the way down to mimicking movements associated with those activities.

A large number of people prefer the virtual version of physically challenging sports and activities to the real thing. Obviously, someone playing a game of virtual tennis or golf doesn’t have to book a court, make a reservation, or pay a fee. As far as the social aspect goes, it is often easier to find friends who will agree to play the video version of a sport rather than the “real thing.” Virtual games never require going for a long walk or ride between shots. It is easy to play a wide variety of games, one right after the other, and there’s almost certain to be something for everyone.

Best of all, perhaps, is that no one is likely to get injured playing a virtual game. While Medicare supplement insurance is designed to give you peace of mind through any injuries you may suffer, there’s no need to go to the hospital to enjoy the comprehensive benefits it can provide!

Recently, we conducted a “study” of our own by asking our Facebook visitors about their experience with video games. Not surprisingly, they had a lot to say about the subject.

Some of our friends commented that they like to play games such as Angry Birds, Candy Crush, Pet Rescue, and slot games. The majority, however, indicated a preference for word games, spelling games, strategy games, and other games that address skills that carry over into real life.

Whether playing games that focus primarily on motor skills or mental challenges, many of our friends and readers have definitely incorporated video games into their regimen for staying sharp and well-coordinated—and studies of the past several years seem to suggest they’re making the right choice.

A lot of criticism of some video games centers on their violent nature and suggests that violent games may increase some people’s tendency to display violence of their own outside the game. None of our friends indicated they like to play violent games, and one person described violent games as “kind of moronic.”

Some of our friends see video games as a great way to pass down time. One person likes to play at night when it is difficult to sleep. Another friend, who “must rest my back an hour a day around lunch time,” finds video games “a great way to do that.”

It’s not only our Facebook visitors who seem well aware of the apparent benefits of playing video games. According to the Entertainment Software Association, 48 percent of Americans aged 50 and over play video games. Many of these “gamers” are from the growing Medicare population, and as positive studies continue to emerge regarding the benefits of video games for seniors—and even as a growing number of healthcare professionals and facilities recognize the value of video games—the number of older Americans playing video games is all but certain to continue increasing at a fast rate.

Tell us about your favorite video game and why you like to play it!

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