Study shows gaming by 60+ seniors increases cognitive skills

Urbana (IL) – A recent study conducted by the psychology department at the University of Illinois-Urbana finds that over-60 seniors who play strategy-based video games can improve their cognitive function. The researchers found that improvements were not specific to the skills learned from gaming, but seem to be across-the-board increases. Their findings are published in this month’s issue of Psychology and Aging.

The game chosen for the study was Rise of Nations, which gives users the opportunity to build an entire society. Game players create cities, wonders, they must feed and employ people. Basically, they create all aspects of society including merchants, educators, food growers, distributors, as well as military forces for defending their nation.

The study included 40 older adults, 20 of which received 23.5 hours of training in Rise of Nations, with the other 20 receiving no training. Assessments taken before and after the video game training on a variety of tests designed to “measure executive control functions” were compared. These included the ability to switch tasks, short-term memory, reasoning skills and working memory (the ability to hold two or more pieces of information in mind and use the information appropriately when needed).

The results showed that the gamers with training showed notable improvements in performance. They were “significantly better – and faster – at switching between tasks as compared to the comparison group [no-training],” according to the report. Their working memory was also significantly improved, as were reasoning abilities. The short-term memory of visual cues was also somewhat enhanced, as was their ability to identify rotated objects.

The game training experience had no effect on their ability to recall a list of words in order, enumeration abilities or the ability to inhibit certain responses. There was also no correlation between their game performance and their improvement in cognitive tests. Regardless of how well (or poor) they did in the game, the improved results were typical.

Game play

A separate study conducted by Pew Internet, published earlier this week, found that 36% of those over 65 years old who consider themselves “gamers” play computer, online or console games everyday or almost everyday. 28% play a few times a week and 17% play a few times per month. This is the highest percentage of any age group, including 18-29, 30-49, 50-64, which were 20% or below for everyday or almost everyday, a full 16% lower.

So what do they play? 73% of all gamers play some games on a desktop or laptop computer. 53% play on consoles. 35% play on cellphones, Blackberrys or other “handheld organizers”. And 25% play on portable consoles like a PSP, DS or Gameboy.

It’s interesting to note that of all of the population, not just those who consider themselves gamers, that 55% of all men play some video games. 50% of women play some games. 81% of those between 18 and 29, 60% of those 30-49, 40% of those 50-64 and 23% of those 65 and over play some games. Race is not a differentiator as 51% of white non-Hispanic play games, as do 51% of black non-Hispanic. 63% of Hispanic English-speaking play games. These results are based on an Oct-Dec, 2007 study of 2054 adults.

56% of those in urban environments play games, as do 53% of those in suburban areas, but only 47% of those in rural areas do. Income does not affect game play either, as 52% of those with income below $30K play games, 59% of those between $30K and $50K, 62% of those in the $50K-$75K range and 56% of those above $75K.