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Serious games, the elderly and active ageing

 March 5, 2014
By Javier Garcia

Games, as well as being an important learning technique, have been a common educational tool throughout history, one also used in adulthood to retain certain faculties. With extensive developments occurring in the ICT field, this form of entertainment is undergoing an authentic revolution thanks to video games.

The typical educational uses of video games, both at school and for sophisticated professional training, can be employed to help maintain and even improve the faculties of the elderly in a fun way. Some common examples of their benefits worth highlighting include the collaboration between players, sociability, improved creativity, the stimulation of reflection, or the development of reasoning through observation, comparison and association.

Combining these advantages, the development of serious games could become a new ally in achieving elderly welfare. Indeed, a recent study carried out by the University of California in San Francisco noted improved cognitive control in the elderly arising directly from their use. The study produced other encouraging findings, including that the use of video games can increase neuronal and memory performance, as well as improve sustained attention span.

The data speaks for itself, even in preventing the loss of cognitive abilities. In the case of the “Road Tour” game, in which the action unfolds over a road trip, 681 healthy people over the age of 50 who played for 10 hours a week reduced their cognitive age by 3 years; and those who played for 14 hours, by 4 years. The effectiveness of these new methods far surpasses more traditional ones, improving players’ cognitive ages by 1.5 to 7 years, compared to those who just do crosswords, for example.

Moreover, although the benefits increase with the time played and continuity, the results become evident in the short-term. Thus, the necessary mental exercise involved in actively participating in serious games far outweighs the activity of other more usual forms of entertainment, such as watching television.

The development of serious games, with the help of therapists, psychologists and specialist  gerontologists, allows more useful cognitive rehabilitation therapies ; with an enormous range of possibilities: from simulators that improve peripheral vision or pastimes that numb the effects of mental illnesses such as Alzheimer’s; to video games that encourage exercise in a fun way by capturing movements, or even platforms to encourage personal relationships, thus favouring sociability.

Thanks to serious games for the elderly; learning, fun and health go hand in hand to promote active ageing, combining physical and mental well-being, social participation and independence.