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Video games may benefit seniors' mental health

March 7, 2013

Video games may seem like an unusual component of a healthy lifestyle for seniors, but new research out of North Carolina State University may suggest otherwise. After surveying a group of participants 63 and older, scientists found that seniors who played a video game at least once in the past year tended to enjoy better emotional health.

The results may come as a surprise to some people, especially since previous studies have highlighted the negative impact of playing video games, such as the increased likelihood of a sedentary lifestyle. However, the researchers found a strong correlation between playing digital games and better mental and social health. While they can't say for sure, study authors believe the entertainment value could play a significant role. 

"One possibility for these findings is that digital games serve as a source of entertainment, which may lower negative affect and depression and increase well-being. In support of this interpretation, previous studies have found that adults who engage in more leisure activities report better emotional outcomes," they wrote. 

There have been some other studies which have suggested that video games could play a role in healthy aging. For instance, a previous study from the University of California, San Diego, found that so-called "exergames" - video games that combine physical activity with entertainment - offer considerable benefits when it comes to the mental health of seniors. Specifically, researchers found that participating in such games can help reduce subsyndromal depression in seniors, something which is common among the 65-and-older population. 

Subsyndromal depression, which is a variety that does not meet the official diagnosis, affects many older adults. According to the National Institutes of Health, the condition affects an estimated 15 percent of people 65 and older.