A study published in Alzheimer’s and Dementia: Translation Research and Clinical Interventions, indicates that video games could help reduce the risks of dementia among older people. However, the results of the study are a contentious issue.
2,800 people – aged 74 at the beginning of the study and in good health – took part in the experiment. This lasted 10 years and was financed by the American health institutes.
The seniors who participated in the study followed exercises of « double decision » likened to video games. These exercises consist in identifying objects on a screen with a view to enhancing the responding and memorizing capacities. During the first five weeks of the study, participants completed increasingly fast and difficult exercises for a dozen hours. Then, they were split in three groups:
- The first one played to enhance their memorizing capacities.
- The second one played to enhance their reasoning capacities.
- The third one served as control and did not play.
The researchers measured the performance of all three groups after the first five weeks, then every year for five years, and then at the end of the 10-year experience. They also questioned the participants to assess how they carried out their daily chores. According to researcher Jerri Edward (University of South Florida) completing these exercises as video games could have led to a 29%-reduction in the risk of dementia compared with the control group. There were no noticeable differences between the first and the second group.
Still, this reduction of nearly 30% in the risk of dementia is the object of debate. According to Rob Howard, a psychiatrist and psychiatry professor at the University College of London the « results indicating an apparent reduction in the risk of dementia after only a few hours of training with cognitive exercises, are rather surprising and should be taken with caution ».
A Wii to Age Better
Many articles and studies praise the benefits of video games on the maintenance of the cognitive capacities of seniors. These games are also called « serious games », they help maintain memory, reflexes, and also reduce boredom or isolation in retirement homes.
This is what is put into practice at the Foyer du Romarin in Clapiers close to Montpellier, France. This retirement home was the first in France to acquire a Wii console in 2008. Since then, many groups have equipped their retirement homes. Playing with the console helps residents regain selfconfidence: they learn how to use controls, they play and share games with their children and grandchildren. The choice of the Wii is not without significance, in addition to maintaining self-confidence and cognitive capacities, this console requires players to make specific gestures compared with other consoles that require to press buttons. Very old seniors are no longer used to the movements required: lifting their arms, crouching, miming a throw, bending over, etc.
Sources (French language) :
Consoglobe : Les jeux-vidéos amélioreraient la santé mentale des seniors
Le Parisien : La Wii réveille les maisons de retraite
Silver Eco : Les jeux-vidéos, une seconde jeunesse pour les seniors