Playing a Video Game Could Cut the Risk of Dementia by 48%, Suggests a New Study

Video games, the world has come to real­ize, can do good. Twen­ty or thir­ty years ago, peo­ple had a hard­er time accept­ing this, much to the frus­tra­tion of dai­ly-gam­ing young­sters such as myself. I remem­ber decid­ing, for a school sci­ence project, to demon­strate that video games improve “hand-eye coor­di­na­tion,” the go-to ben­e­fit in those days to explain why they weren’t all bad. But as our under­stand­ing of video games has become more sophis­ti­cat­ed, as have video games them­selves, it’s become clear that we can engi­neer them to improve much more about our­selves than that.

The New York­er’s Dan Hur­ley recent­ly wrote about find­ings from a study called Advanced Cog­ni­tive Train­ing for Inde­pen­dent and Vital Elder­ly (ACTIVE), which began with three thou­sand par­tic­i­pants back in 1998. “The par­tic­i­pants, who had an aver­age age of 73.6 at the begin­ning of the tri­al, were ran­dom­ly divid­ed into four groups. The first group, which served as con­trol, received no brain train­ing at all. The next two were giv­en ten hours of class­room instruc­tion on how to improve mem­o­ry or rea­son­ing. The last group per­formed some­thing called speed-of-pro­cess­ing train­ing” by play­ing a kind of video game for ten hour-long ses­sions spread over five weeks.

A decade into the study, some of the par­tic­i­pants received extra train­ing. 14 per­cent of the group who received no train­ing met the cri­te­ria for demen­tia, 12.1 per­cent did in the group who received speed-of-pro­cess­ing train­ing, and only 8.2 per­cent did in the group who received all pos­si­ble train­ing. “In all, the researchers cal­cu­lat­ed, those who com­plet­ed at least some of these boost­er ses­sions were forty-eight-per-cent less like­ly to be diag­nosed with demen­tia after ten years than their peers in the con­trol group.”

Intrigu­ing find­ings, and ones that have set off a good deal of media cov­er­age. What sort of video game did ACTIVE use to get these results? The Wall Street Jour­nal’s Sumathi Red­dy reports that “the exer­cise used in the study was devel­oped by researchers but acquired by Posit Sci­ence, of San Fran­cis­co, in 2007,” who have gone on to mar­ket a ver­sion of it called Dou­ble Deci­sion. In it, the play­er “must iden­ti­fy an object at the cen­ter of their gaze and simul­ta­ne­ous­ly iden­ti­fy an object in the periph­ery,” like cars, signs, and oth­er objects on a vari­ety of land­scapes. “As play­ers get cor­rect answers, the pre­sen­ta­tion time speeds up, dis­trac­tors are intro­duced and the tar­gets become more dif­fi­cult to dif­fer­en­ti­ate.”

You can see that game in action, and learn a lit­tle more about the study, in the Wall Street Jour­nal video above. Effec­tive brain-train­ing video games remain in their infan­cy (and a few of the arti­cles about ACTIVE’s find­ings fail to men­tion Lumos Labs’ $2 mil­lion pay­ment to the gov­ern­ment to set­tle charges that the com­pa­ny false­ly claimed that their games could stave off demen­tia) but if the ones that work can har­ness the addic­tive pow­er of an Angry Birds or a Can­dy Crush, we must pre­pare our­selves for a sharp gen­er­a­tion of senior cit­i­zens indeed.

Note: The Advanced Cog­ni­tive Train­ing for Inde­pen­dent and Vital Elder­ly (ACTIVE) study was fund­ed by the Nation­al Insti­tute on Aging (NIA) and the Nation­al Insti­tute of Nurs­ing Research (NINR), both part of the Nation­al Insti­tutes of Health (NIH).

Relat­ed Con­tent:

This Is Your Brain on Exer­cise: Why Phys­i­cal Exer­cise (Not Men­tal Games) Might Be the Best Way to Keep Your Mind Sharp

Dai­ly Med­i­ta­tion Boosts & Revi­tal­izes the Brain and Reduces Stress, Har­vard Study Finds

Becom­ing Bilin­gual Can Give Your Brain a Boost: What Recent Research Has to Say

Demen­tia Patients Find Some Eter­nal Youth in the Sounds of AC/DC

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • AB says:

    I read all the way to the end hop­ing to read that the seniors had formed into teams on their own and had res­cued the hostages play­ing “Coun­ter­strike.”

    Alas, the sto­ry leads to lawyers and pay­ments over false claims.

    Still, thanks for con­sis­tent­ly touch­ing upon things that inter­est me about us. This site is often one of my best dis­trac­tions. Any infor­ma­tion that leads me to believe that I will still be curi­ous and intrigued in my lat­er years is good news. I am sur­round­ing myself with books.

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