The Anti-Alzheimer’s Game

alzheimers-63610_640The popular picture of video gamers doesn’t often include white hair and walkers. Recent literature suggests, however, that senior populations can benefit most from the gamer lifestyle. We’re not talking cheese puffs and energy drinks, but rather cognitive improvement engendered by playing video games.

A study performed by the Alzheimer’s Association and published in the Journal Nature shows that for people aged 60-85, playing driving games increases memory and attention span. Even better, these cognitive enhancements can linger for up to six months after the senior citizens lay down their remotes.

Media has touted anecdotal benefits of video games for senior citizens, citing the low-impact exercise of Nintendo Wii’s motion sensing controls. The Alzheimer Association study can now put solid numbers behind those anecdotes.

The study saw a number of citizens aged 60-85 playing a simple driving simulator. While steering a virtual Volkswagen Beetle, road signs in the shape of a rearview mirror would superimpose over the screen. These signs showed simple shapes and colors. The players, in response to specific signs, were prompted to press different buttons on their controller, all while maintaining their virtual car on the road.

By forcing the participants to split their attentions between driving and watching for road signs, the game strengthened seniors’ multitasking abilities. Senior citizens, particularly, show difficulty in multitasking. After twelve hours of training, however, the participants showed marked improvements in cognitive tests designed to display multitasking abilities.

This latest study, Alzheimer’s Association Maria Carrillo says, shows that challenging the brain with novel and changing situations improves brain health. “The healthier our brain,” Carrillo says, “the more we can withstand cognitive aging.”

Even better, study participants were then able to beat much younger players—people in their 20’s—at the driving simulation game. Developers hope to publish a mobile version of this cognitive-enhancing game in the near future.

Teenagers watch out, there’s a new gamer in town and they’ve got proven skills.

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