Video Games Train Older Brains to Act Younger, Reversing Aging

First Posted: Sep 05, 2013 10:18 AM EDT

It's not all fun and games. It turns out that video games have some beneficial impacts we weren't aware of--especially when it comes to older populations of people. Scientists have used a video game to help reverse some of the negative effects of aging on the brain.

Using video games to impact a person's health isn't anything new. Video games have been used frequently in the past to help improve various aspects of a person's real-life abilities. For example, they've been seen to improve eyesight and have even been shown to improve the reading abilities of dyslexic children.

The 3-D video game itself is specifically designed to improve cognitive control. In the game, participants race a car around a winding track while a variety of road signs pop up. The drivers have to keep an eye out for a specific type of sign while ignoring the rest, and have to press a button whenever that sign appears. This means that the players have to switch rapidly from driving to responding to the signs. This particular skill involves the use of multitasking, which generates interference in the brain that undermines performance.

This video game wasn't just for fun. It had a huge impact on the cognitive abilities of older players. After receiving just 12 hours of training on the game, spread over a month, 60- to 85-year-old study participants improved their performance until it surpassed that of 20-year-olds who played the game for the first time. In fact, the game also improved the participants' performance in two other important cognitive areas: working memory and sustained attention.

"The finding is a powerful example of how plastic the older brain is," said Adam Gazzaley, one of the researchers, in a news release.

Evidence that the adult brain is capable of learning has accumulated for many years. This latest study adds to the body of research, showing that even a small amount of brain training can reverse some of age-related decline. In fact, scientists found that this particular video game allowed participants to perform between on the Test of Variables of Attention, which measures sustained attention.

Currently, the researchers plan to conduct follow up studies using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging in order to better understand how the neural network is involved in performance changes. Yet the findings show that video games could be used as a tool in order to help patients and also reveal a little bit more about older brains.

The findings are published in the journal Nature.

Want to see the game for yourself? Check out the video below, courtesy of YouTube.

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