Video Games Boost Mental Abilities in Elderly

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NeuroRacerIn a preliminary study, healthy volunteers ages 60 to 85 showed gains in their ability to multitask, to stay focused on a boring activity and to keep information in mind — the kind of memory you use to remember a phone number long enough to write it down.  All those powers normally decline with age, Dr. Adam Gazzaley of the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues noted in a study released Wednesday by the journal Nature.

The work is the latest indication that people can help preserve their brainpower as they age through mental activity. There are “brain training” games on the market and books devoted to the topic. Gazzaley stressed that his results don’t mean any commercial video game can help mental performance. His game was designed to exercise specific abilities, he said.

The game, called NeuroRacer, involves doing two things simultaneously. A player uses a joystick to guide a car along a hilly, twisting road, steering it and controlling its speed. At the same time, a series of signs — actually, colored shapes — appears on the screen. The player is supposed to push a button only when a particular kind of sign appears. Players were scored on how quickly and accurately they reacted to the right signs.

The game progresses to harder levels as a player improves, to keep it challenging. The mprovements were still apparent six months after the training stopped. Researchers also found changes in brain wave activity that correlated with how well the improvement persisted at six months, as well as performance on a test of sustained attention for a boring task.

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