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Video game sharpens seniors' cognitive skills

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May 2, 2013

Seniors who played the Road Tour video game reportedly experienced an improvement in their...

Seniors who played the Road Tour video game reportedly experienced an improvement in their cognitive skills (Photo: Shutterstock)

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It’s a sad fact of life that as we age, our cognitive skills decline. In particular, the “executive function” of our mind diminishes – this function is a key aspect of our memory, attention, perception, and problem solving skills. There may be help, however. Scientists from the University of Iowa are now claiming that by playing a specific video game, test subjects aged 50 and over were able to stop and even reverse the trend.

A team led by Prof. Fredric Wolinsky started with a group of 681 volunteers, and divided them into four groups. One of the groups was assigned to do computer-based crossword puzzles (as a control) for a total of 10 hours. The other three groups played an existing video game known as Road Tour – one group played for 10 hours in a lab, one group for 14 hours in a lab, and one group for 10 hours at home.

Within the game, users are briefly shown a vehicle and then called upon to pick it out from a rotating circular display of possibilities, amidst a number of distractions. As with most games, players advance as they improve, with each new level of game play proving more challenging than the last.

Gameplay screens from Road Tour
Gameplay screens from Road Tour

When tested a year later, subjects who played the game for 10 hours reportedly gained and retained an average of at least three years’ worth of cognitive improvement. The 14-hour group experienced an average gain of four years. The maximum improvement measured in any one individual participant was seven years.

As compared to the crossword puzzle-solving control group, the game players showed a particular improvement in “concentration, nimbleness with shifting from one mental task to another, and the speed at which new information is processed.”

A paper on the study was recently published in the journal PLOS One. Double Decision, which is the new version of Road Tour, is available online from Posit Science.

Source: University of Iowa

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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5 Comments

When my generation is old I think old folks homes would actually be fun because gaming would be so connected and immersive by then. By then the ~10th generation Xbox should be out. I just hope I wouldn't have to move my old ass around much to control it.

Daishi
2nd May, 2013 @ 06:12 pm PDT

I'm 49 and still gaming; a part of my plan to live a longer mentally, as well as physically, active life and thus continue to game after my body starts to reject the idea of getting out on my bike when I'm in my 70s.

TheSplund
3rd May, 2013 @ 12:53 am PDT

I'm 61 and still gaming:) http://www.youtube.com/user/batmandeltaforce

dang right it it improves your cognitive skills, and more. There should be a program to get gaming computers into retirement homes.

b@man
3rd May, 2013 @ 07:01 am PDT

I have a nintendo brain game that I paid less for and does the same thing. Unfortunately, we moved 4 years ago and I can't find it. I got stuck after 6 months and could not progress so I lost interest. I should find it and keep working a little every day.

I really hate it when I know the answer on Jeopardy but just can't say it.

Don Duncan
3rd May, 2013 @ 10:52 am PDT

I wonder, does gardening or painting or woodworking or cooking work even better, because of entertaining problem solving being combined with actual exercise, which also gives health and mental benefits?

Marco McClean
3rd May, 2013 @ 12:22 pm PDT
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