three older adults are on a couch playing video game

Live Vibrantly - December 19, 2019

Game On! The Benefits of Gaming as We Age

By Amber McCracken

If you have grandchildren below the age of 18, chances are video games are somewhere on their holiday gift list. Are they on your list as well? If not, maybe you should reconsider!

“Gaming” is quite the phenomenon these days. A study by the Entertainment Software Association found that nearly two-thirds of U.S. households include someone who regularly plays video games. But what might surprise you is in a 2016 study by AARP and the Entertainment Software Association, 38% of Americans ages 50 and older said they play video games. Apparently, Boomers are also blasting bad guys, building Fortnight fortresses and bowling the lanes of Wii Sports.

Before you dismiss game playing as a waste of time, research is now showing it’s far from mindless. In fact, it might be quite beneficial to your brain.

Feeling Board?

From the time we were children, board games were a source of fun. From Monopoly to the Game of Life, these games provided social entertainment and, quite often, vicious competition among family and friends. Now we know that it’s more than just fun and games. The social interaction stimulates our minds, and we challenge ourselves to think a little harder. Let’s face it, chess and Scrabble are great for putting the brain to work!

The positive health effects go deeper than that. A British Medical Journal study notes that the risk of dementia was 15 percent lower in board game players than in non-players and the activity helped with depression. Similarly, a new study in the Journal of Gerontology, found that the more you played games, the higher your cognitive function at 70 and the less cognitive decline from age 70 to age 79.

Beyond enhancing memory function and helping cognitive skills, games also tend to lower stress and can be calming, which can lower blood pressure. Plus, in many instances, games require some coordination and hand dexterity, which can be important for us as we age.

Entering the Digital Dimension

While it’s reasonable to think that standard board games can offer benefits, it seems less likely with the latest video games. After all, we are inundated with warnings to limit screen time for children so as not to impede brain development.

When it comes to older adults, some research has found quite the opposite to be true–video gaming can boost cognitive abilities. A study by the Universite de Montreal found that playing 3D-platform games on a regular basis may improve cognitive function for seniors and increase grey matter in the brain structure called the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the region of the brain primarily associated with spatial and episodic memory. The grey matter it contains combats neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s.

People must be feeling the effects. In the previously cited AARP and Entertainment Software Association survey, more than 25% respondents say they have played a video or online game specifically to stay mentally sharp.

This holiday season, as family and friends gather, haul out the board games, card and checkers set – not just for the sake of fun but also for mental function. Then consider taking it a step further. When your grandson or granddaughter asks you to play the latest version of Destiny II or Super Smash Bros, you just might want to take them up on it. And even add it to your own wish list!


Amber McCracken is the executive director of Current Communications, a boutique consultancy that helps organizations with their marketing and public relations activities. Amber has worked with GHI since 2014, providing her expert advice to support Goodwin House at Home. She contributes regularly to The Good Life, both as a writer and editor. Amber lives in North Carolina with her husband and two children.




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