Video Gaming Just Might Fight Aging

FRIDAY, Jan. 22 (HealthDay News) -- Slaying orcs, charting military campaigns and gunning down bad guys might not sound like things seniors would be interested in pursuing for fun or exercise.

But they might want to start, some experts on aging say.

Research has found that off-the-shelf video games have the potential to help seniors age more gracefully, keeping their minds sharp and responsive through game play.

"There's a growing body of evidence that suggests playing video games actually can improve older adults' reflexes, processing speed, memory, attention skills and spatial abilities," said Jason Allaire, an associate professor of psychology at North Carolina State University and co-director of its Gains Through Gaming Lab.

With the advent of the Nintendo Wii, there's even the potential that video games could provide seniors with an outlet for physical exercise.

The Wii uses special controllers that require arm and body movements, and a number of games have been developed for the system specifically to provide an exercise program.

One study found that a Wii bowling game boosted the heart rate of players at a senior center in Pensacola, Fla., by about 40 percent. The game required that the players, who were in their 60s, 70s and 80s, hold the controller like a bowling ball and swing it to hit the pins in a virtual bowling alley.

"The Wii is a perfect vehicle because it is so easy," Allaire said. "It's in a lot of senior centers already. Older adults already tend to use it."

The potential of video games to keep minds sharp was highlighted in a 2008 study in which 40 people in their 60s and 70s were asked to play Rise of Nations, a real-time strategy game for computers that can be found in many stores that sell video games.

"We wanted to see whether we could take an off-the-shelf game and see fairly substantial changes," said Art Kramer, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who participated in the study.

Researchers measured the cognitive abilities of the players, none of whom had played any video games for at least two years. They then had half the group play Rise of Nations for nearly 24 hours total over an eight-week period.

Follow-up tests found that the seniors who played the strategy video game improved their performance on tests of memory, reasoning and cognition. There were particular improvements, Kramer said, in what's called executive control processes -- abilities such as planning, scheduling, dealing with ambiguity and multi-tasking.

"As we get older, we show declines in many of those abilities," he said. "As a result of doing certain things, we end up doing them less often. The kinds of processes that were exercised in the video game were some of the processes that older adults show deficits on."

Allaire is part of a team that has been given a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to do further research on whether and how video games can boost memory and thinking skills in the elderly.

The researchers plan to have seniors play a Wii game called Boom Blox that involves using weapons such as slingshots and cannonballs to demolish on-screen targets. The research will also involve World of Warcraft, an online role-playing game, Allaire said.

The plan is to assess three aspects of video game-playing that are thought to drive cognitive improvements in older people, Allaire said. They are:

Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...
See It, Share It
PHOTO: Salvager Eric Schmitt was combing through the wreckage of a convoy of Spanish ships that sank off the coast of Florida in 1715 when he discovered a missing piece from a gold Pyx.
Courtesy 1715 Fleet - Queens Jewels, LLC
Lisa Kudrow
Seth Poppel/Yearbook Library | Getty Images
PHOTO: Motorists were startled when an axe from a dump truck in front of them flew at their windshield.
Massachusetts State Police/Facebook
PHOTO: In this April 26, 2013 photo, a large home intended for the family of Warren Jeffs is seen in Hildale, Utah.
Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune/AP