WEDNESDAY, Sept. 4 (HealthDay News) -- A specially designed
video game may help sharpen mental skills that fade with age, a new
The study, which is published in the Sept. 5 issue of the
Nature, tested a video game that was created by brain
scientists and dubbed
The game requires players to multitask, or juggle several things
that require attention at the same time.
People had to keep a car centered in its lane and moving at a
certain speed while they also tried to quickly and correctly
identify signs that flashed onto the screen, distracting them from
In a series of related experiments, researchers from the
University of California, San Francisco, showed that the ability to
multitask suffers with age. But healthy seniors who regularly
played the game were able to turn back the clock. After a month of
practice, they were able to multitask even more effectively, on
average, than younger adults.
The study suggests that the value of video games might extend
beyond entertainment. Experts say video games may not only stave
off the mental deficits that come with age, but could also help in
the diagnosis and treatment of mental problems.
"I think people are soon going to use video games to collect data and to train [the brain]," said Dr. John Krakauer, director of the Brain, Learning, Animation and Movement Lab at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. "I think it's very promising. I think it's going to happen."
The study was conducted in healthy adults who were able to think
and remember normally for their age. But researchers have already
begun to test
NeuroRacerto see if it might benefit people with ADHD or
depression, two conditions that hamper the ability to pay attention
and stay on task.
They said they're also developing four other games that will
challenge different mental skills.
These games aren't likely to be sold in stores, but if further
testing proves them to be valuable, researchers think they may one
day make their way to doctors' offices.
"It would be a medical diagnostic and therapeutic, potentially even going the route of FDA approval," Dr. Adam Gazzaley, director of the Neuroscience Imaging Center at the University of California, San Francisco, said during a Tuesday news conference on the findings. Gazzaley is a co-founder of the company that is developing the next generation of the video game. The study was funded by Health Games Research, a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the U.S. National Institute on Aging.
For the research, scientists recruited 174 healthy adults aged
20 to 80. About 30 people from each decade of life were asked to
NeuroRacergame to see how well they were able to multitask.
These first tests showed that the ability to multitask gets worse
with age. Adults in their 20s saw a 28 percent drop in performance
when they were doing two things at once, while those in their 30s
saw their performance drop about 39 percent.
Next, they wanted to see whether people could get better at
multitasking with practice. For these experiments, they picked 46
healthy seniors who were between the ages of 60 and 85 and assigned
them to one of three groups: 16 were asked to play the
NeuroRacergame for an hour a day three times a week, 15
played a version of the game that required them to do only a single
task at a time and 15 others didn't play the game at all.
After a month, seniors who had practiced multitasking with
NeuroRacershowed big gains compared to their peers in the
other two groups.
The drop in performance that everyone experiences when they try
to do two things at once "improved dramatically from 65 percent to
16 percent, and even reached a level better than 20-year-olds," who
had only played the game once, Gazzaley said.
What's more, seniors who played for an hour a day three days a
week saw improvements in other mental skills that weren't directly
trained by the game. Working memory, or "the ability to hold
information in mind, as people do when they're participating in a
conversation and they have to think about what they want to say and
remember it while they wait their turn to speak" got better,
Gazzaley said, as did their visual attention (the ability to
sustain focus on a task in a boring environment).
Additional tests, which measured the brain's electrical
activity, showed a boost in areas responsible for cognitive
control, the skill that helps the brain switch back and forth
The improvements in mental function lasted for about six months
after seniors stopped playing, the researchers said.
What remains to be seen, experts said, is whether these
improvements will help people in real life.
"They could argue that if you got better at this game then maybe you would be a safer driver when you're elderly," Krakauer said. "You may be able to look for what exit you need to take and stick to the road."
"[But] they haven't tested that," he said. "We don't know the answer to that."
The researchers agreed.
"In order to see improvement in daily life, you need larger numbers of people" who are studied for a longer period of time, Gazzaley said. Planning for those studies is currently in the works.
For more ways to prevent aging, visit the
U.S. National Institute on Aging.
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