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It’s no secret that in recent years seniors have increasingly become an active part of the online community. Between 2009 and 2010, the percentage of seniors using Facebook grew from 2.3% to 11%. Senior citizens routinely use email as a way of staying in touch. And 59% of seniors define themselves as “going online.”

Now there’s mounting evidence that seniors who play online games may be getting more than just entertainment value: They may be boosting their cognitive skills and helping to slow down memory issues that often develop with age.

NIA Study

A study that was partially funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) looked at whether using a video game that required multitasking had any impact on a senior’s cognitive functioning. The answer was yes. Those seniors in the study played the multitasking video game, which simulated a driving experience via 3D videogame technology. Those who played the game for 1 hour a day, 3 days a week over a 4-week period demonstrated a definite advance in their multitasking ability when it was measured at the end of the study. Perhaps even more surprisingly, they scored higher than a group of 20-year-olds who did not have the benefit of the specific videogame training.

The scientists who conducted the study were able to measure improvements in two areas that are of special importance for those seeking to stem memory issues: working memory and sustained attention. (Working memory refers to the ability to store and manipulate information for complex cognitive tasks; sustained attention refers to the ability to focus and sustain attention on the task at hand over time.)

But the benefit was not just measurable by cognitive testing: the scientists were also able to observe actual physical changes in the prefontal cortex, one of the regions of the brain that is crucial to cognitive control. In other words, this study indicates that the training resulted in a change not just in the behaviors associated with cognitive function but in an area of the brain that has a direct impact on that function.

The next step is for scientists to take these findings and try to determine how to design games that specifically can have greater impacts on cognitive function. That will take some time; while they are being developed, however, it may behoove seniors to try playing some games that require them to pay attention and multitask. It’s okay if they don’t necessarily get high scores; the process and the repetition is more important.

Taking steps to stem cognitive decline results in a better quality of life for seniors. The staff at HomeHero can talk with caregivers and seniors to come up with strategies that they can employ on a daily basis to assist with memory issues. Working with experienced caregiving professionals can add a new dimension to home care.

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