With the huge marketing efforts and popularity of the Wii video game consoles, the audience of those interested in playing video games has widened considerably. However, long before video games were popular, card, crossword, word and board games were exercising the brains of many people while keeping them dutifully entertained. While your average retiree is not likely to jump onto the computer to blast away alien invaders for a couple of hours, some are benefiting from both the commercial brain video games like those on the Wii and more specialized brain training programs that are currently being developed.
Though many of our parents and grandparents might just shake their heads at seeing their children and grandchildren so engrossed in playing video games, the reality is that all sorts of games are good for keeping the old noodle at its sharpest. Getting grandma onto the Nintendo for any amount of time might be a challenge, but she may very well play her daily crossword or meet with friends to play cards on a regular basis in order to stay sharp. In either case, the use of the brain in novel ways is part of the strategy for keeping the operation of the brain “young”.
For seniors, some of the more important areas with regarding to maintaining optimal brain function revolve around memory and the ability to focus. In this regard, scientists at the University of Michigan have determined that developing personal strategies to trigger memory recall or to focus attention are part of the solution. Seniors typically want to maintain their independence and these two areas mentioned are key to that goal.
Working towards this goal, scientists from a company called Posit Science reported at the annual general meeting of the American Geriatrics Society that analysis of their brain training package showed that seniors following a series of 6 exercises were able to at least double the speed at which they could perform mental tasks. However, this company is not alone. Other companies like Lumosity are also offering computer-based games to improve memory, attention, cognitive control and processing speed. While memory and ability to focus are key, it is good to see that other areas of brain function can also be improved.
Other benefits for our aging population that have been seen from computerized training involve assisting the recovery of those who have experienced a stroke. In this case, playing video games has been shown to assist in rewiring the brain to allow faster recovery. Since stroke victims face great challenges and loss of independence from paralysis, any factors that can improve their recovery are of great individual value.
Lastly, playing video games has been found to improve spatial skills that are important to daily activities such as driving a car or reading a map. Maintaining these skills as we age is definitely of importance to maintaining mobility and independence.
If you or an older relative can still not be convinced to take advantage of some of the benefits of the digital age, there are still other activities to round out the old standards of crossword games and bridge. One simple game that can assist in keeping a person involved and active as they age is to wear an earplug in one ear when visiting with a large group of friends. This sort of game trains the brain to identify who is talking without the normal benefit of both ears to help locate the speaker.
Another way to stretch the brain as we age is to learn a new language because this sort of activity really forces the brain to use different areas than it is used to. Practicing with other people regularly is also very important as it forces one to think of new ideas and to remember the new faces and background of other people with whom you are speaking.
In addition to all these options, one can simply brush their teeth and comb their hair with the opposite hand from what they normally use. While you may have a funny hairdo for a few days while you learn or get toothpaste on your cheek, it’s these sorts of stretches to the regular use of the brain that can keep it functioning younger than its age.
So have you bought a brain game for an aging relative or encouraged them to try a brand new activity? Has one of your children or grandchildren suggested the benefits of playing such games or taking up these sorts of activities? It would be interesting to hear your stories and experiences.