Encouraging elderly relatives to play their grandchildren’s video games could help them to avoid getting dementia. According to new research, participating in active games, including those available on Wii and Xbox Kin consoles, the brain could be given the extra boost it requires to ward off Alzheimer’s.
The study, which was carried out by Manchester University, analysed 1,000 people – the majority of whom were pensioners – and found significant benefits. It discovered that 15 minutes playing such games three times a week was enough to keep the brain healthy and sharp as the participants aged.
It is the first comprehensive study of its kind and taken a wide range of so-called exergames into consideration. Data collected in a number of previous trials has been brought together to show the impact things like cybercycling, dance video games and kayaking on a 3D lake can have on brain health.
People in their 60s, 70s and 80s took part in the research, showing that it’s never too late to get active and that technology can help them to do so. Regular simple exercises, like going for a brisk walk, may be favoured by the elderly, but these exergames actually produced more benefit for those involved.
It is the coordination element in these games that makes the difference when it is combined with physical effort, scientists explained. It improves mental function and could prevent against neurological disorders like dementia and Parkinson’s disease. Enjoying exergames could even be beneficial for those who already have some form of cognitive impairment.
Joseph Firth, a psychologist from the university, said: “As people age, their brain functioning, such as memory, concentration and spatial awareness naturally decline. Various neurological conditions such Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, mild cognitive impairment and dementia can also impede people's cognitive functioning and reduce their ability to function day to day.
“Recently there has been much interest in using active video games in the rehabilitation of these conditions, and to promote healthy ageing. So we were fascinated to learn the available evidence shows how these sort of games can significantly improve overall cognitive functioning, and is particularly beneficial for attention, executive functioning and visuo-spatial abilities.”
One of the great things about these games is the wide variety on offer. They allow older people to try something they may have wanted to do all their lives or tap into a passion they had when they were younger, but cannot necessarily continue to do at their age outside of these games.
Among the stumbling blocks for widespread use of exergames with the elderly is their lack of familiarity with the technology. This is why it is useful if younger members of the family can introduce them to the devices and set them up for their parents or grandparents to use.
Moves are afoot for video games to be introduced into some care homes. Making them part of a regular entertainment programme is a great way to get residents involved. Seeing others use them could also encourage those who are sceptical to give them a try.