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Video games may help the elderly retain information, says McGill study

help the elderly retain information

How gaming may help the elderly retain information?

A new study from the University of McGill finds that so-called “brain training” computer programs may not be as effective at keeping people engaged and learning as an off-the-shelf video game, at least for seniors.

The study looked at two groups of older adults who spent twelve weeks completing 60 training sessions while playing either an off-the- shelf video game called “Crazy Taxi” or a game specifically intended to support brain development called Insight. Participants completed questionnaires after each session to gauge their interest, involvement and “flow experience,” and researchers concluded that while the interest and absorption in the game played by the Insight group did increase between the start and finish of the program, the type of absorption -specifically, the level of flow experience- improved only with the group playing Crazy Taxi.

“The analyses revealed that both groups experienced increase in Flow over the period, but only participants in the Crazy Taxi group significantly improved in Flow,” say the study’s authors whose research is published in the journal Games for Health. “This has long-term implications since we would expect participation to go beyond 12 weeks in a real-world scenario.”

Flow experience -also known as “being in the zone”- is depicted as a state of concentration and absorption in a task, to the point where a person feels fully immersed in the activity, without much awareness of other things going on around him or her. Importantly, psychologists attribute to flow experiences a range of emotional and cognitive advantages such as feelings of happiness, joy and fulfillment along with increased awareness, depth of learning and mental acuity.

And while the immersive qualities of video games are well known, their positive effects on people’s cognitive abilities -especially the abilities of the elderly- have been held under more suspicion. The present study shows that even common off-the-shelf video games can help the elderly retain information and provide flow-inducing experiences.

But research has shown that video games can have long-lasting positive effects on mental processes. A survey study in the American Journal of Play found that people (both adults and children) playing video games experience improved spatial attention, ability to track moving objects, ability to engage in multiple tasks simultaneously and increased mental flexibility. As well, video games have been shown to aid in overcoming dyslexia and amblyopia (also called “lazy eye”) disorder.

All of which is good news for the video game industry in Canada, which has merited a world-class reputation for its production in recent years.

Governments have responded by putting more investment into gaming. The Ontario government’s Interactive Digital Media Fund (IDMF), for one, has funded small business development to the tune of $25 million over the past ten years, supporting 248 different projects and contributing over $1 billion in annual revenue to the province. The 2016 version of the program will put $6 million into the hands of developers, which will increase to $10 million next year.

“We’ve helped people bootstrapping in their lofts, working service jobs to pay the bills,” said James Weyman, Manager of Industry Initiatives for the Ontario Media Development Corporation, the parent group of the IDMF. “We’ve seen some of our recipients go from two person shops to 20 person shops, or part-time companies to full-time companies.”

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About The Author /

Jayson is a writer, researcher and educator with a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Ottawa. His interests range from bioethics and innovations in the health sciences to governance, social justice and the history of ideas.
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