Seniors and the Positive Cognitive Effects of Video Games

shutterstock_277923296The stereotypical gamer is often thought to be an acne-ridden, pubescent teenager mashing buttons to mindless computer games. Most people also assume that playing video games yields little benefit outside of simple entertainment. However, recent research now challenges both of these long-held assumptions.

Busting Video Game Myths

Statistics not only show that the average age of a game player is thirty-five, but that seniors are a rising demographic of gamers. More importantly, many games once thought mindless entertainment have proven beneficial to the cognitive functions of senior players.

In one study developed by researchers at UC San Francisco, a video game reversed some effects of cognitive decline in the brains of senior participants. The study gathered adults across various age demographics and subjected them to a driving simulator that tested their short-term memory as well as their ability to multitask and maintain focus. The game also increased in difficulty over time.

The study found that after receiving only twelve hours of training in the game over the course of a month, participants over the age of sixty performed better than the twenty-year-old participants who played the game for the first time. Researchers then brought the seniors back six months after the training ended to play the game again, finding that participants still retained their skills and that their memories improved in tasks outside of the game. Dr. Adam Gazzaley, UCSF associate professor of neurology, physiology, and psychiatry and director of the Neuroscience Imaging Center, stated, “The finding is a powerful example of how plastic the older brain is.”

In another study, researchers found that playing action-shooter video games, such as Call of Duty or Halo, can improve vision. Playing these games activates several different parts of the brain, especially the systems responsible for visual acuity. For people to play successfully, this genre, in particular, requires attention and utilizes rapid eye movement. As a result, users improve their visual skills related to tracking fast-moving objects and following several objects at the same time.

East Carolina University conducted a study showing that casual gaming can help fight depression, reduce anxiety, and greatly improve one’s sense of wellbeing. Additionally, despite once existing as a fairly solitary hobby, many games now place an emphasis on social components, which also assist with stress reduction.

Video Games and Assisted Living Communities

shutterstock_120981763Due to the various demonstrated benefits of video games, it comes as no surprise that many Assisted Living providers have gotten on board and added video games to their communities.

For example, Heritage Woods of Bolingbrook, an Assisted Living community in Bolingbrook, Illinois, added a Nintendo Wii in the day room, and seniors got hooked on the bestselling Wii Sports video game, with Wii Bowling as the standout game of choice. One resident of the community stated that prior to the introduction of the Wii, “Many people stayed in their rooms and didn’t participate in anything.”

However, after its addition, the console became the social hub of the community. Residents even set up a bowling team and competed nationally against other seniors, placing third among seventy-nine squads. Wayne Smallwood, executive director of the Affordable Assisted Living Coalition, noted, “The biggest thing is it encourages participation and activity. Seniors who are frail or who have disabilities who can’t heft a bowling ball, they can still do the Wii.”

In Plano, TX, the Assisted Living community Prestonwood Court also introduced the Nintendo Wii into their community with much success. Not only does it add activities for residents, but those affected by conditions such as arthritis can play games that they otherwise might not have been able. As Amber McCollom, a public relations manager for Nintendo puts it, “It just proves our point that anyone at any age can be a gamer.”

When searching for an Assisted Living provider for your loved one, check to see if the community offers video gaming as an activity for residents. Whether Wii Bowling or puzzle games, gaming is an amazing way for seniors to improve cognition, fight aging, and make new friends in their community.

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