We have previously reported on the ability of video games to improve neuroplasticity. Now it appears that physicians and researchers are putting this to use in a clinical context. As reported recently in Nature, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco led by Dr. Adam Gazzaley have developed a multitasking video game to improve cognitive processing in older adults.
According to the article, the researchers showed that multitasking performance, as assessed with a custom-designed three-dimensional video game (NeuroRacer), exhibited an age-related decline from 20 to 79 years of age. By playing an adaptation of NeuroRacer, older adults (60 to 85 years old) reduced multitasking costs compared to control groups, attaining levels beyond those achieved by untrained 20-year-old participants, with gains persisting for 6 months.
According to the New York Times, which featured a quote by Dr. Gazzaley:
… after the older adults trained at the game, they became more proficient than untrained people in their 20s. The performance levels were sustained for six months, even without additional training. Also, the older adults performed better at memory and attention tests outside the game.
“That is the most grabbing thing here,” Dr. Gazzaley said. “We transferred the benefit from inside the game to different cognitive abilities.”
Still, Dr. Gazzaley said the findings should not be taken to suggest that any activity or video game would improve cognition or lead to brain changes.
“There’s a big leap between what we did here and the real world,” he said. If someone tries to multitask in everyday life, his performance could remain steady or be harmed by the divided attention. The tools people use, he said, must have scientific rigor behind them in the same way that training of great athletes requires a regimen.
These findings are lending more credence to the idea that video games can be used in neuropsychological and clinical settings to improve cognition in the elderly. As our population becomes more aged and rates of dementia continue to rise, we must keep in mind this unique method of retraining the elderly mind.
Original Nature article: Video game training enhances cognitive control in older adults
New York Times story: A Multitasking Video Game Makes Old Brains Act Younger