It has widely been reported that doing crossword puzzles is a good way to keep one’s mind sharp. Now researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, are encouraging seniors who want to improve their cognitive abilities to put down their pencils and pick up a video game controller.
Led by Dr. Adam Gazzaley, an associate professor of neurology, physiology and psychiatry at UCSF, the study asked 46 volunteers between the ages of 60-85 to play a 3D game called NeuroRacer, that involves steering a car along a winding, hilly road. The participants were asked to use their left hand while maintaining “an eye out for certain signs that they need to shoot down with a finger on their right hand.”
Although the volunteers found that when they first began to play their driving skills fell by 64% when the signs first popped up (in comparison to gamers in their 20’s who only experienced a 26% in their performance playing the same video), they soon found that they were outscoring the untrained 20-year olds after a month of playing three times a week. Even more impressive was the fact that the seniors scored higher on tests involving short-term memory and long-term focus in tests given separately from the game.
According to Gazzaley, the senior gamers continued to retain their improved mental agility six months later, despite not practiced during that time off.
“That is the most grabbing thing here,” Gazzaley, who co-founded the game’s manufacturer, Akili Interactive Labs. “We transferred the benefit from inside the game to different cognitive abilities.”
Although he declined to say that “picking up a controller would cure all aging related mind deficiencies, he did feel that more studies along these lines could help scientists get a better understanding of how certain neurological networks in the brain impact cognitive and memory skills, since they could “have far-reaching implications beyond decline caused by normal aging: ADHD, depression, dementia and Alzheimr's.