October 2013

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Health Capsule

Video Game Training Improves Brain Function in Older Adults

Seniors who played a specialized 3-D video game improved their ability to focus and multitask during laboratory tests. The new findings show the aging brain’s potential to improve certain skills.

As we get older, changes can affect our ability to reason, think, and remember. One function that may be altered is multitasking—the ability to do several things at once. You’re multitasking if you write an email while talking on the phone. When driving, you’re also performing many tasks at once, such as scanning the road, steering, and braking.

To learn more, a team of NIH-funded scientists asked a small group of healthy adults, ages 60-85, to do multitask training by playing a specialized 3-D driving game. The seniors used a joystick to drive a virtual car along a winding road. They were told to press a button only when specific road signs appeared. As the seniors improved, the game got harder.

Seniors played the game on a laptop at home for 1 hour a day, 3 times a week for 4 weeks (12 hours of total training). The training significantly enhanced their ability to multitask in laboratory tests. Their multitasking scores were even better than those of untrained 20-year-olds. Gains were still seen when the seniors were tested 6 months later.

The training also led to improvements in tests related to memory and attention—abilities that often decline with age.

“The finding is a powerful example of how ‘plastic’ the older brain is,” says study leader Dr. Adam Gazzaley of the University of California, San Francisco, referring to the brain’s ability to adapt and change.