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Aging and Video Games: Brain Plasticity

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

I often hear friends complaining that they are forgetful. For example, in going from one room to another, they can’t remember why they moved into the other room. They forget they put their pocketbook or wallet before they go out. They can’t remember what they planned to shop for in the supermarket. These are not people who are developing Alzheimer’s. Rather, these are rapidly aging people talking about the fact that their minds don’t seem to work as fast as when they were younger. Well, there now appears to be a way to reverse some of this gradual erosion in the ability to remember, concentrate and problem solve. A recent study shows that, when the elderly play video games, their cognitive abilities improve.

Researchers analyzed 681 healthy people aged 50 and up and found that those who played a video game named “Road Tour” video for at least 10 hours gained at least three years of cognitive, (mental skill) improvement after one year. A group that received four additional hours of training with the game improved their thinking abilities by four years. The game required them to identify “vehicles” among an ever-faster array of images that appear on the computer screen.

The author of the study, Fredric Wolinsky, a professor of public health at the University of Iowa, said “that we start slowing down in our early 30s and it continues into old age. The good news is, with the right kind of training programs, we can regain what we’ve lost and maybe get people to higher levels of cognitive ability.”

The ability to bring about change in the brain is called “brain plasticity.” The human brain is made up of billions of nerve cells or neurons. Plasticity, or neuroplasticity, describes how experiences reorganize neural(neuron) pathways in the brain. Long lasting functional changes in the brain occur when we learn new things or memorize new information. These changes in neural connections are what we call neuroplasticity. Providing people have no degenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s the brain can continue to learn and improve throughout life.

There are many commercial video games that claim to help the brain improve cognitive abilities. Road Tour is available at a web site called, Posit Science and can be found at: http://www.positscience.com

I plan to tell all my friends about this to help them improve their cognitive skills.

By the way, this training in brain plasticity is good at any age and is certainly not restricted to the elderly. Have a look at Posit Science. Some of the games are free to try out, including Road Tour.

In other words, “You can teach an old dog new tricks.”

Your comments are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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