10 Nov Video games and the elderly
You may think of this as a very weird combination: video games and elderly. But actually, it’s exactly what society needs. You may have heard of a growing problem among the elderly here in the Netherlands: they are lonely, don’t have much to do, and often sit in a chair all day staring at the wall. That sounds boring, right? You can imagine that this ‘activity’ doesn’t require much brainpower, and that can actually be the start of developing a mental illness! Recent research found that using your brain, for example by doing crossword puzzles, can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. But crossword puzzles are quite boring, aren’t they? Perhaps we can find something more exciting?
That’s right. Video games!
Right now, research shows that strategy games are an excellent way to improve cognition and can potentially put a brake on the development of Alzheimer’s. A study in which old folks play Rise of Nations, a strategy game where you have to multi-task and take over the land before others do, shows a significant increase of cognitive skills. Participants also said they like playing games once they get to know them, but they would have never started playing themselves.
However, one study made a bit of an embarrassing mistake. Researchers had the great idea of making elderly play video games, but perhaps they didn’t think about the effects of making them play a game with a World War II theme. It’s still a mystery how that one passed the ethical committee, but one thing is sure: the participants did not enjoy playing that game. And I can understand why.
Brain training? Nah…
In recent years, brain training games, including for example Sudoku’s have become quite popular. However, those strategy games I referred to above actually seem to be better at improving cognition. So when your mom complains about you playing those stupid video games, tell her you’re in fact improving your cognition. Here is a list of the kind of games that seem to do your brain good, from best to worst:
- Strategy games: like Rise of Nations or Red Alert
- Adventure/puzzle games: like the Legend of Zelda
- Adventure/platforming games: like Super Mario
- Brain training games
Studies showed elderly can learn to love computer games, but does this also happen outside the laboratory? Well, in the community of Reddit, user DanMun posted the photo on the right with the caption “My grandparents love Venice so I let them play Assassins Creed 2. They took it in turns to just row a gondola around for over an hour.” His post went viral and everyone fell in love with the idea of giving elderly access to new worlds through video games.
So, show this article to your grandparents when they decline your offer to play Assassins Creed on your computer. I mean, I know computers can be scary but once you get to know them, it’ll all be worth it!