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Video Game Boosts Brain Power of Older Adults

  • Jessica Berman

Scientists have developed a video game for older adults that appears to improve their short-term memory and long-term focus. Seniors who play the so-called multi-tasking game develop neurological improvements rivaling those of 20-year-olds.

Peoples’ short and long-term cognitive abilities decline with each passing decade. But there is growing scientific evidence that the human brain, with the right stimulation, can be reprogrammed to counteract the effects of age.

The latest research comes out of the University of California San Francisco, where researchers developed a video game for seniors called NeuroRacer.

The game study involved more than a dozen 60 to 80-year-old participants, who were asked to maneuver a video-screen car at the same time that signs flashed in front of them on a screen. The signs were either relevant or irrelevant to the game play. The participants followed signs they deemed relevant and disregarded those they thought were unimportant.

Researchers began their investigation by measuring how well participants performed on one task and compared it to how well they did when a second task was added.

Compared with young people who played the game once, study lead author Adam Gazzaley said in a telebriefing with reporters there was a striking improvement in multi-tasking after seniors practiced at home for one month.

“Before training, they had a 65 percent drop in performance when they do the two tasks versus one task. After training, they only had a 16 percent drop in performance. And that’s better than the 20-year-olds that had a performance drop in the 27 percent range," said Gazzaley.

Most striking to Gazzaley was that improvements in the seniors' brain power carried over for six months into other mental areas and without any additional game play...

“ sustained attention, which is vigilance, ability to hold your attention to something that is very boring and respond to it rapidly and accurately, that improved selectively in this group. And also working memory, their ability to hold something in mind for a short period of time and respond to it accurately and rapidly; that also improved," he said.

Although he’s reluctant to endorse commercially available video games, Gazzaley says some shooter games that focus players’ attention on a particular target could have a similar benefit.

Gazzeley says his lab is in the process of developing other video games for people with attention deficit disorder and depression.

An article on a video game that boosts the brain power of older individuals is published in the journal Nature.

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