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The Key to a Healthy Mind: Video Games

When I was a kid, I remember my parents always telling me that playing too many video games would “rot my mind.”

But, oh… how times have changed!

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco are working on methods that prove the exact opposite.

They’re developing specific video games for elderly people, aimed at helping improve their brain function and cognitive abilities as they age.

Professor of Neuroscience at UCSF, Adam Gazzaley, says the games are designed to stimulate the parts of the brain that traditionally falter in later years, such as memory and attention span.

He says that while scientists are still trying to figure out exactly what causes such dysfunction, “… we know that it seems to be a breakdown with how the front part of our brain – the prefrontal cortex, which is kind of the command center in charge of cognitive control – and how its ability to communicate with the rest of the brain seems to be less efficient.”

But here’s the breakthrough: While such cognitive decline has always been considered progressive and permanent, Gazzaley and his team are showing that video games might actually reverse impairment.

How?

A New Kind of Driving Test

Inspired by similar video game studies that have triggered improved cognitive abilities in children, Gazzaley and his researchers have developed a driving simulation game, designed to boost multi-tasking skills.

Basically, the player needs to keep the car in the middle of the road (I know some drivers here in Maryland who could use this game!) and click a button whenever they see a sign.

And in terms of improving users’ mental dexterity, it worked like a charm.

As Gazzaley explains, “They played the game in the lab, both before and after we recorded their brain activity with an EEG, which looks at electrical activity in the brain. We find that as a sign comes up while you’re driving, there’s this burst of activity from the front part of the brain – the prefrontal cortex. This is greater in younger adults than in older ones before they train. But after they train, they improve this brain activity measure to young adult levels.”

It’s an improvement that Gazzaley says could transfer to better memory and attention span. And his team is now developing wider studies that could lead to more games, specifically for older people.

So much for video games being “no good for you!”

If only I’d been able to cite such promising video game research to my parents when I was a kid!

Ahead of the tape,

Martin Denholm

Martin Denholm

, Managing Editor

View More By Martin Denholm