Get Grandma an Xbox: Video games shown to aid seniors
NEW YORK — It probably won't become as popular as “Grand Theft Auto,” but a specialized video game may help older people boost mental skills such as handling multiple tasks at once.
In a preliminary study, healthy volunteers ages 60 to 85 showed gains in their ability to multitask, to stay focused on a boring activity and to keep information in mind — the kind of memory you use to remember a phone number long enough to write it down.
All those powers normally decline with age, Dr. Adam Gazzaley of the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues noted in a study released on Wednesday by the journal Nature.
The study was small, with only 16 volunteers training on the specially designed game. Gazzaley and other brain experts said bigger studies were needed to assess whether the game could help people function in their everyday lives. He's co-founder of a company that aims to develop a product from the research.
Specialized video games might one day be able to boost mental abilities not only for healthy adults of middle age or older, but for children with attention deficit disorder, people with post-traumatic stress disorder or brain injury and older adults with depression or dementia, he said.
The work is the latest indication that people can help preserve their brainpower as they age through mental activity. There are “brain training” games on the market and books devoted to the topic. Gazzaley stressed that claims should be backed up by evidence and that his results don't mean any commercial video game can help mental performance. His game was designed to exercise specific abilities, he said.
The game, called Neuro-Racer, involves doing two things simultaneously. A player uses a joystick to guide a car along a hilly, twisting road, steering it and controlling its speed. At the same time, a series of signs — actually colored shapes — appears on the screen. The player is supposed to push a button only when a particular kind of sign appears. Players were scored on how quickly and accurately they reacted to the right signs.
The game progresses to harder levels as a player improves, to keep it challenging.
In a separate experiment with 174 volunteers between the ages of 20 and 79, the researchers found that as people age, driving the car interferes more and more with performance on reacting to the signs.
But for 14 of the 16 participants who played the game at home for a total of 12 hours during a month, the training decreased the amount of interference. In fact, on this measure, they did better than a group of 20-year-olds who played the game for the first time.
The improvements were still apparent six months after the training stopped.
Brain experts unconnected with the study said previous research has shown that older people can improve on mental skills such as multitasking if they are trained. But the training in past multitasking studies was “boring as all get-go,” said Elizabeth Zelinski, a professor of gerontology and psychology at the University of Southern California. Presenting an appealing game like NeuroRacer instead could help people stick with it, she said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Suspect in killings of wealthy D.C. family arrested
- Senators push for full funding for Amtrak
- Dogs split from the wolf pack earlier than thought, DNA analysis suggests
- Suspect in killings of wealthy DC family arrested
- Experts cited concerns with medical scope infections in ‘09
- 6 Baltimore officers indicted in Gray’s death
- Obama trade bill advances in Senate
- Ex-Va. lawmaker plans to wed teen in sex scandal
- NSA extension up to senators
- Santa Barbara oil spill rallies ‘green’ crusaders
- Texan bags black rhino in benefit hunt