You’ve probably watched your grandkids play video games for hours on end and thought to yourself (or more likely, said out loud!): “That mindless activity is ruining their brains!” Their eyes glaze over. They don’t notice when you walk in the room or their parents call them for dinner. They’re not even interested in your homemade chocolate chips, unless you shove one in their mouth. How can that be good for them?!
Well, studies show that it’s not only good for them, but it could also be good for you too!
Several years ago, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco developed a game called NeuroRacer, which involves driving a car along a winding road and quickly pressing a button every time a sign appears. The goal was to help seniors improve their ability to shift focus, or multitask, a skill that surprisingly starts to decline in our 20s.
As a part of a 2013 study, published in the Nature, the researchers then had 60- to 85-year-old participants play the game for an hour a day, three times a week. After a month of this regular play, players were twice as adept at shifting their focus between driving and watching for the signs as when they started and actually were able to beat a group of 20-year-olds (granted, the kids had only played the game once, but it’s still quite impressive!) at their own game. And these seasoned players retained their refined multitasking skills for six months after they’d stopped playing the game.
While the game certainly had the intended cognitive effects on seniors in the study, the participants reaped some pretty unexpected brain benefits as well. In addition to being better at doing more than task at once, they also experienced improvement in their short-term memory, including retaining information like names, phone numbers, dates and times.
While this particular game was developed as a research tool and is not available to the general public, other video games that are, like World of Warcraft (WoW) and War Thunder, have also been shown to improve seniors’ cognitive focus and spatial ability. (Yep, those are the games that your grandkids have spent half their young lives playing!) And Wii™ has physical and social benefits too. Just ask the 1,500 bowlers in the National Senior Wii Bowling League, who competed in a seven-week season last year. In fact, 26 percent of gamers were over the age of 50 in 2015.*
The next time you think of video games as something only kids (with too much time on their hands) do, toss out the stereotype and pick up a joystick instead. You just might enjoy yourself … and learn something in the process!