When you think of your typical gaming audience, you probably don’t envision seniors. The truth is, though, gaming offers seniors valuable health benefits. Not only can gaming help to keep senior minds active, but studies have shown that it can even possibly prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
How Gaming Helps Senior Cognitive Function
A Canadian study by Universite de Montreal psychology professors Gregory West, Sylvie Belleville, and Isabelle Peretz revealed surprising information on the benefits that gaming offers seniors.
Two separate studies from 2014 and 2017 observed the effects of playing 3D video games on platforms like Super Mario 64 had on young adult brains. The gaming found increased gray matter in the hippocampus after gaming. This is significant because the hippocampus is largely responsible for long-term cognitive health and serves as a marker for Alzheimer’s disease.
The Canadian study focused on seeing whether this increased gray matter in the hippocampus would also result in seniors after gaming. Thirty-three participants, age 55 to 75, were included in the study. Over the course of six months, the participants were divided into groups, one of which played Super Mario 64 for 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week. The participants were observed, and the effects of gaming were measured with cognitive performance tests and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at the beginning and end of the study.
The findings revealed that the group of study participants who played video games saw both increases in their gray matter volume, as well as an improvement in short-term memory. The control group, which was not provided with an activity to perform, saw atrophy in the brain, rather than an increase in the gray matter.
Why did this happen? The video games engage the hippocampus, which creates a map of the virtual environment that the gamer is exploring in the game. This stimulation can increase the brain’s function. Because the size of the hippocampus has been linked to the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, it’s possible that video games and other stimulating activities could help to reduce a senior’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Additional Gaming Benefits
But gaming doesn’t just help to keep senior minds active. It offers other valuable benefits that make it a worthwhile activity for any senior to consider.
Improved Emotional Well-Being
Playing video games can result in improved emotional well-being for seniors. A study of 140 seniors revealed that seniors who played video games regularly or occasionally had higher emotional well-being and lower rates of depression than non-gamers. They also had increased social functioning, suggesting that gaming may be a positive activity that encourages successful aging.
Improved Physical Function
For seniors, loss of balance and the potential of a fall is a major concern – and gaming could help to reduce that risk. A study found that seniors who played video games one hour per day, three times a week for 10 weeks made significant physical improvements. The study participants experienced progress in walking speed and balance. According to the study, video games providing seniors with cognitive training could be an option for fall prevention.
Social Interaction Opportunities
Gaming doesn’t have to be a solitary activity, either, and can provide seniors with valuable social interaction. Seniors can schedule weekly game nights and can invite friends over to play a video game.
These events can help to strengthen social interaction, which is important because as seniors age, they often become more withdrawn and have fewer social opportunities. Gaming get-togethers can help to strengthen friendships, lift spirits, and keep loneliness at bay.
Gaming Opportunities for Seniors
Seniors will only enjoy the benefits of gaming if they find the right types of games to enjoy. Be sure to consider factors like whether a senior can comfortably sit at a computer for a period of time, or whether a tablet or phone equipped with games would be a better choice.
It’s a good idea for a senior to talk with their doctor before taking up gaming to address any physical conditions or limitations that may be of concern. When starting a game, seniors should only play for shorter periods of time in order to avoid issues like eye strain or muscle fatigue.
Choosing the right type of game is also important. Here are a few great options for seniors:
- Tetris – Tetris is a great option for a senior who may be just starting to explore virtual games. The game itself is a classic, and this desktop version makes it easy to play.
- Wii Fit Plus – Wii Fit Plus doesn’t just provide mental stimulation, but it encourages seniors to stay physically active in a fun and engaging way, right in the comfort of their own homes.
- Luminosity – Luminosity is a great option for seniors, since its brain-stimulating games are designed by scientists and game designers. These cognitive training games can help to improve memory, problem solving skills, and more.
- Brain Age – For seniors looking to increase their memory, Brain Age’s concentration training is a fun way to stimulate the mind.
There are countless more games for seniors to choose from, and because games are low-cost, they’re a fun and accessible way that seniors can keep their minds active as they age.
Liz Crawford is a technology and gaming enthusiast. She started Dungeon Dwellers to help express her geeky side. Aside from helping seniors and baby boomers during her 9-5 at a Medicare learning resource center, she enjoys blogging about upcoming tech news.