Baby Boomers: Video Gaming for Brain Health!

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It’s been a while and I apologize for that, but I had the busiest August on record!  First I attended my 40th, yes my 40th High School reunion and had a blast!  It was so much fun reconnecting with old friends and reliving fun times from high school.  It always amazes me how much every one has accomplished and where everyone is in their lives.  So many of my friends are grandparents several times over!  Next, my son graduated from Army National Guard training and the entire family was there proud as peacocks to see him in his uniform!  There is something so emotionally riveting about a military ceremony, even if it is Army (I am retired Air Force, so can kid my child for the rest of his life about choosing the Army!)!  Then we ended the month of August by moving our daughter back to college taking everything she owned (at least it seemed like it) and she still forgot a few items…like her computer cord and mattress cover.  However, August is finally over and I am hopefully back on a regular schedule.

My first blog for September is about a topic near and dear to my heart – using technology to improve our health!  This time it combines having a great deal of fun and keeping our brains healthy at the same time.

At University of California, San Francisco, researchers are reporting that a specially designed video game may help sharpen mental skills that fade with age.  The study, which is published in the Sept. 5 issue of the journal Nature, tested a video game that was created by brain scientists and dubbed NeuroRacer.

The game requires players to multitask, or juggle several things that require attention at the same time.  People had to keep a car centered in its lane and moving at a certain speed while they also tried to quickly and correctly identify signs that flashed onto the screen, distracting them from their driving.

The researchers conducted a series of experiments on 174 healthy adults aged 20 to 80.  The researchers first found that the ability to multitask suffers with age. But healthy seniors who regularly played the game were able to turn back the clock. After a month of practice, they were able to multitask even more effectively, on average, than younger adults.

The study suggests that the value of video games might extend beyond entertainment. Experts say video games may not only stave off the mental deficits that come with age, but could also help in the diagnosis and treatment of mental problems.

Next, they wanted to see whether people could get better at multitasking with practice. For these experiments, they picked 46 healthy seniors who were between the ages of 60 and 85 and assigned them to one of three groups: 16 were asked to play the NeuroRacer game for an hour a day three times a week, 15 played a version of the game that required them to do only a single task at a time and 15 others didn’t play the game at all.

After a month, seniors who had practiced multitasking with NeuroRacer showed big gains compared to their peers in the other two groups.

The drop in performance that everyone experiences when they try to do two things at once “improved dramatically from 65 percent to 16 percent, and even reached a level better than 20-year-olds,” who had only played the game once, researhers reported.

What’s more, seniors who played for an hour a day three days a week saw improvements in other mental skills that weren’t directly trained by the game. Working memory, or “the ability to hold information in mind, as people do when they’re participating in a conversation and they have to think about what they want to say and remember it while they wait their turn to speak” got better, as did their visual attention (the ability to sustain focus on a task in a boring environment).

Additional tests, which measured the brain’s electrical activity, showed a boost in areas responsible for cognitive control, the skill that helps the brain switch back and forth between activities.

The improvements in mental function lasted for about six months after seniors stopped playing, the researchers said.

For the present, it doesn’t appear that the game will be sold to the public, but will more likely make its way into doctors offices.  The developers are considering going for FDA approval for the game to used as a diagnostic and therapeutic tool.  The study was funded by Health Games Research, a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the U.S. National Institute on Aging.

 

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