Strategy-Based Video Games May Improve Older Adults' Brain Function

AAAS Neuroscience & Society Event Looks at Video Games' Effects

 

Craig Anderson, Hilarie Cash and Chandramallika Basak spoke at the AAAS/Dana Foundation Neuroscience & Society event. | Stephen Waldron/AAAS

Strategy-based video games have shown some promise in improving brain function in older adults, suggesting the games might provide a defensive measure against dementia and Alzheimer’s, said a brain researcher at a March 15 Neuroscience & Society event co-sponsored by AAAS and the Dana Foundation.

Preliminary research has suggested that, “if the target is to improve older adults’ cognitive control, reasoning, and higher-order cognitive skills, and stave off dementia and Alzheimer’s as long as possible, then maybe strategy games are the way to go,” said Chandramallika Basak, assistant professor at the Center for Vital Longevity and School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas. 

The Neuroscience & Society lecture series, begun in 2012, features outstanding speakers who discuss new findings about the brain and what they might mean for ordinary individuals and society. This event focused on the effect on brain and behavior of video games, which are played by 155 million Americans at least three times a week, according to Deborah Runkle, senior program associate with the AAAS Center of Science, Policy and Society. This event’s three experts spoke about video game addiction, the connection between violent video games and aggression, and the possible benefits of strategy-based video games for older adults.

Basak explained that strategy-based video games include, not only real-time strategy games, such as “Rise of Nations,” which was used in her research, but also computer adaptations of strategy board games such as “Settlers of Catan,” a favorite among physicists and mathematicians; “Ticket to Ride,” for geography lovers; and especially the classic strategy game of chess—all played with a time constraint.

Action video games, such as those in which the player tries to shoot foes, may not be at all related to the cognitive abilities that tend to decline in old age, Basak said. She also emphasized that cognitive training is a second option when compared to physical fitness programs, which have been linked to positive effects on cognition, brain function, and brain structure.

In a study involving healthy older adults, Basak said, the biggest gains in brain function associated with video game training affected executive functions, such as working memory and the brain-organizing skills known as inhibitory abilities, and global cognition.

Basak’s laboratory, which is focused on cognitive interventions to improve abilities that decline with age, is conducting further research to evaluate differences among various types of video games, long-term effects of cognitive training using the games, and effects on patients already experiencing mild cognitive impairment.

[Associated image: nnv/Adobe Stock]