Video Games Help Older Adults’ Memory

On September 5, 2013 by Physical Culturist

Video games help older adults' memory

(USA TODAY) Video games may seem like a mindless way to waste time, but a growing body of evidence suggests that if they are carefully designed to meet certain standards, they can dramatically improve brain power.

Studies have shown that specially made games can help people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), early stages of dementia, brain injury, stroke, “chemobrain,” addiction and other conditions.

Now a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature confirms that they can help healthy people as well.

After 12 hours of playing a road game designed to improve attention and focus, healthy 60- to 79-year-olds performed as well as people a half-century younger. Improvements were still evident six months later, and extended beyond skills learned for the game. Similar games might help older people improve driving skills or keep people from losing their ability to multitask as they age.

This is not to justify a young person’s obsession with Grand Theft Auto, World of Warcraft or anything on Xbox or Wii, scientists said.

To be beneficial, a game must be designed with a specific goal such as improving attention, meet certain criteria, and be proven effective through research, said Adam Gazzaley, director of the Neuroscience Imaging Center at the University of California-San Francisco, who led the study.

“I don’t want people to conclude that video games are some panacea for all that ails us,” he said.

But the 16 older people who played on laptops for 12 hours at home got better at multitasking, paying attention in dull situations, and remembering things short-term. At first, their performance fell off by 65% when they had to point out street signs in addition to staying on the road. After practice, it dropped just 16% with the extra task, less than for 20-somethings. Brain scans and cognitive tests confirmed improvement.

Gazzaley said key aspects of his game, called NeuroRacer, included:

    –Getting harder when people succeed and easier when they’re getting frustrated. This will keep them challenged, but not turned off.

    –Providing an “immersive” environment that draws people in with 3-D imagery and a constantly changing scene.

    –Having fun. Research shows learning improves when the brain’s reward system is turned on, as it is when having fun.

    –Forcing people to keep driving up windy mountain roads while spotting occasional signs, so they had to work continuously at both skills and couldn’t trade off one for the other.

Gazzaley is working with game designer Akili Interactive Labs of Boston on similar games, eventually for conditions such as ADHD and depression, as well as healthy aging.

Future versions for tablets and phones will make the training accessible to more people, “and not just relegated to their living room,” said Akili’s W. Eddie Martucci.

The study confirms one essential truth about the human brain: It never stops learning, said Michael Merzenich, an emeritus professor at UCSF and a co-founder of another brain-game developer, Posit Science.

“Anybody at any age can be better at almost anything — better tomorrow than you are today,” he said.

Copyright USA TODAY 2013

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