Some video games are good for older adults' brains

December 6, 2017
Credit: Cristie Guevara/public domain

If you're between 55 and 75 years old, you may want to try playing 3D platform games like Super Mario 64 to stave off mild cognitive impairment and perhaps even prevent Alzheimer's disease.

That's the finding of a new Canadian study by Université de Montréal psychology professors Gregory West, Sylvie Belleville and Isabelle Peretz. Published in PLOS ONE, it was done in cooperation with the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal (IUGM), Benjamin Rich Zendel of Memorial University in Newfoundland, and Véronique Bohbot of Montreal's Douglas Hospital Research Centre.

In two separate studies, in 2014 and 2017, young adults in their twenties were asked to play 3D video games of logic and puzzles on platforms like Super Mario 64. Findings showed that the in their hippocampus increased after training.

The hippocampus is the region of the brain primarily associated with spatial and episodic memory, a key factor in long-term cognitive health. The gray matter it contains acts as a marker for neurological disorders that can occur over time, including and Alzheimer's.

West and his colleagues wanted to see if the results could be replicated among healthy seniors.

The research team recruited 33 people, ages 55 to 75, who were randomly assigned to three separate groups. Participants were instructed to play Super Mario 64 for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, take piano lessons (for the first time in their life) with the same frequency and in the same sequence, or not perform any particular task.

The experiment lasted six months and was conducted in the participants' homes, where the consoles and pianos, provided by West's team, were installed.

The researchers evaluated the effects of the experiment at the beginning and at the end of the exercise, six months later, using two different measurements: cognitive performance tests and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure variations in the volume of gray matter. This enabled them to observe brain activity and any changes in three areas:

  • the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex that controls planning, decision-making and inhibition;
  • the cerebellum that plays a major role in motor control and balance; and
  • the hippocampus, the centre of spatial and .

According to the MRI test results, only the participants in the cohort saw increases in in the hippocampus and cerebellum. Their short-term memory also improved.

The tests also revealed gray matter increases in the and cerebellum of the participants who took piano lessons, whereas some degree of atrophy was noted in all three areas of the brain among those in the passive control group.

What mechanism triggers increases in gray matter, especially in the hippocampus, after playing video games? "3-D video games engage the hippocampus into creating a cognitive map, or a mental representation, of the virtual environment that the brain is exploring.," said West. "Several studies suggest stimulation of the hippocampus increases both functional activity and gray matter within this region."

Conversely, when the brain is not learning new things, gray matter atrophies as people age. "The good news is that we can reverse those effects and increase volume by learning something new, and games like Super Mario 64, which activate the hippocampus, seem to hold some potential in that respect," said West. Added Belleville: "These findings can also be used to drive future research on Alzheimer's, since there is a link between the volume of the and the risk of developing the disease."

"It remains to be seen," concluded West, "whether it is specifically brain activity associated with spatial memory that affects plasticity, or whether it's simply a of learning something new."

Explore further: Playing action video games can actually harm your brain

Related Stories

Playing action video games can actually harm your brain

August 8, 2017
Neuroscientists should think twice before getting patients to play video games as a way to boost their brain power, a new study conducted at Université de Montréal suggests. Why? Because in many cases, gaming can do more ...

Genre may impact cognitive training using video games

October 3, 2017
Video games are quickly becoming a hot topic in cognitive training. Many see them as a potential tool to help patients improve their performance and memory, yet little is known about how different types of video games may ...

Study sheds new light on the impact of video gaming on the brain

May 19, 2015
A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B by the teams of Dr. Gregory West (Assistant Professor at the Université de Montréal) and Dr. Véronique Bohbot (Douglas Institute researcher and associate ...

Dance your way to a healthier aging brain

October 13, 2017
(HealthDay)—Dance classes may beat traditional exercise when it comes to improving older adults' balance—and it might enhance brain areas related to memory and learning along the way.

Gamers have an advantage in learning: study

September 29, 2017
Neuropsychologists of the Ruhr-Universität Bochum let video gamers compete against non-gamers in a learning competition. During the test, the video gamers performed significantly better and showed an increased brain activity ...

Can video games make your brain level up?

April 23, 2014
Video games have got a bad press in the past mostly due to the accusation that they make people who play them more violent.

Recommended for you

Activating MSc glutamatergic neurons found to cause mice to eat less

December 13, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A trio of researchers working at the State University of New York has found that artificially stimulating neurons that exist in the medial septal complex in mouse brains caused test mice to eat less. In ...

Scientists discover blood sample detection method for multiple sclerosis

December 13, 2017
A method for quickly detecting signs of multiple sclerosis has been developed by a University of Huddersfield research team.

LLNL-developed microelectrodes enable automated sorting of neural signals

December 13, 2017
Thin-film microelectrode arrays produced at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have enabled development of an automated system to sort brain activity by individual neurons, a technology that could open the door ...

Discovery deepens understanding of brain's sensory circuitry

December 12, 2017
Because they provide an exemplary physiological model of how the mammalian brain receives sensory information, neural structures called "mouse whisker barrels" have been the subject of study by neuroscientists around the ...

Intermittent fasting found to increase cognitive functions in mice

December 12, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—The Daily Mail spoke with the leader of a team of researchers with the National Institute on Aging in the U.S. and reports that they have found that putting mice on a diet consisting of eating nothing every ...

Neuroscientists show deep brain waves occur more often during navigation and memory formation

December 12, 2017
UCLA neuroscientists are the first to show that rhythmic waves in the brain called theta oscillations happen more often when someone is navigating an unfamiliar environment, and that the more quickly a person moves, the more ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.