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Video games may help seniors maintain cognitive function

September 6, 2013

Technology has played an increasingly important role in senior living. The Internet has helped older adults stay connected to family and friends, while advancements in monitoring have made it easier to keep the elderly population safe, and now new research suggests that a certain kind of video game may help seniors reverse some of the negative effects aging has on the brain, according to findings published in the journal Nature. 

Scientists from the University of California, San Francisco, were interested in seeing what impact 3-D video games could have on the cognitive performance of older adults. In order to assess this, the team developed an original game where players race a car around a track while a variety of road signs pop up. Participants were asked to be on the lookout for one sign in particular while ignoring the rest, and when they saw that sign, they had to press a button. After 12 hours of training spread out over the course of a month, the subjects - who were between 60 and 85 - improved their cognitive performance on factors including working memory and sustained attention.

"The finding is a powerful example of how plastic the older brain is," said Dr. Adam Gazzaley, an associate professor of neurology at UCSF. 

This isn't the first time that technology - and video games in particular - has yielded potential health benefits for older adults. Previous research has found that a specific subset of activities - known as exergames - could play an important part in healthy aging. A 2010 study from the University of San Diego discovered exergames, such as the Wii Fit, helped seniors reduce their risk of developing depression.