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New study suggests brain training games may help the elderly

September 4, 2013 | By Kris Ligman

September 4, 2013 | By Kris Ligman
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More: Serious, Design, Video

A new study by the University of California at San Francisco purports that brain-training games may help elderly players improve their ability to multitask.

The paper, which is printed in Nature, is the latest of a long legacy of academic studies attempting to measure the effects of games on cognition. Another study written up in WebMD earlier this year indicated video games were more effective than other, non-digital games such as crossword puzzles at improving cognitive speed and flexibility in older players.

However, a meta-analysis of several studies on the subject also published this year holds that many of the brain-training games under analysis don't actually provide better overall cognition -- just better performance at the specific skills on which players are being tested.

So it's worth noting that this UCSF study, conducted by director Adam Gazzaley of the university's Neuroscience Imaging Center, tested under such conditions as well: a sample of players aged 60 to 85 played a specifically-tailored game, NeuroRacer, for 12 hours a month and were then tested against a sample of 20-year-olds who were not at all familiar with the game. The 60-85-year-olds performed better on the whole than the 20-year-old group, but given the extent that familiarity affects playing ability even among regular game players, that in itself isn't so significant.

That being said, the 60-85 group were retested on a monthly basis for six months after their training and were able to hold on to some of those improvements, and also showed improvements to memory retention and other faculties not specifically tested by the game, so it's possible there are some real material results here.

"One thing I'm cautious about is that it's not blown out of proportion in that the conclusion from this is that video games are a panacea for all that ails us," Gazzeley told The Guardian. "The devil's in the details and this was a very carefully constructed game that was targeted to a known neural deficit and a population."

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