Computer exercise games keep the brain and body fit – and could ward off dementia, experts have found.
So-called “exergames” – which combine physical exercise with interactive video game features – boost players’ mental and physical powers, a study revealed.
Features such as competition and three-dimensional scenery entice people to use the games more often and intensely.
Research has shown exercise may prevent or delay dementia – but only 14% of 65 to 74 year olds and just 7% of over-75s regularly do so.
The Cybercycle Study enrolled 101 volunteers aged 58 to 99 years from independent living facilities with indoor access to an exercise bike.
Those who used a bike equipped with a virtual reality display, with 3D tours and races against a “ghost rider”, “experienced a 23% reduction in progression to mild cognitive impairment compared to” those who used a traditional bike without the display.
Dr Cay Anderson-Hanley, of Union College, Schenectady, New York, reckons video games could transform people’s mental and physical health.
Games for people with Alzheimer’s can be low-tech, high-tech, or anything in between. Every care community in the world probably has a Bingo game – and that’s about as low tech as you can get – yet Bingo has been shown to have positive effects when played by Alzheimer’s and other dementia patients.
One study reported in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementia found that playing Bingo specifically provides mental stimulation that is highly therapeutic. Patients participating in the study performed significantly better on measures of cognition. Staff members reported increases in alertness and in awareness in the test subjects for hours after testing.
Bingo has other advantages as a game for dementia patients. It comes not only in the familiar “B-6, N-23” version, but in a number of alternatives that are stimulating on different levels and for different abilities. Players can identify anything from animals to items of food, to body parts. This allows for the game to be played, in one version or another, by patients at different stages of the disease, and to stimulate memories, thought process, or other cognitive abilities.
And it’s not just a game for large groups. Games for Alzheimer’s should be played for stimulation, not for competition, and can be enjoyed by a group of two or three. Or even one (with a caregiver). Whenever possible, have children play with the older adults. Both age groups enjoy this.
She said: “We found that, for older adults, virtual-reality enhanced interactive exercise – or ‘cybercycling’ two to three times per week for 3 months – yielded greater cognitive benefit and perhaps added protection against mild cognitive impairment than a similar dose of traditional exercise.”
Dr Marie Janson, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “We already know that exercise is an important way to keep body and mind healthy.
Selecting a game
Games for dementia patients should work on several levels. A board game with a colorful playing surface and objects that can be handled (cards, dice, etc.) is better than a game that does not contain these features; the more sensory stimulation the better. Many games involve a physical component, like the one Bernice is playing at the top of this page. Exercise is another component to consider in selecting a game.
And be sure to allow the patient to have a say in the selection process. A game that she played with her children when they were growing up, or one the she herself played as a child will likely hold a special attraction. That familiarity with the activity will serve to stimulate memories.
“The results from this small study suggest that combining physical and mental exercise through exergaming could have even more beneficial effects on cognition in older adults than normal exercise alone.
“Larger and more detailed studies will be needed to get to the bottom of exactly what aspect of exergaming could be giving the benefit but the early results are very interesting.
“Although it may be unrealistic to expect people to invest in exergaming technology, the findings show that both mental and physical exercise are important in keeping our minds active in old age.
“With 820,000 people in the UK already living with dementia, and an increasingly ageing population, it is important that we invest in research into preventative strategies that could help to maintain our cognition for that little bit longer.”
Paul Arciero, professor of health and exercise sciences at Skidmore College, New York, said: “No difference in exercise frequency, intensity, or duration was found between the two groups, indicating that factors other than effort and fitness were responsible for the cognitive benefit.”
People’s mental – or cognitive – function was assessed with planning, memory and problem solving tests before, during and after the study period.
The Alzheimer’s Association suggests engaging in mentally stimulating activities on a daily basis. Games and puzzles are among the recommended activities.
Puzzle-based video games are commonly marketed toward the elderly and often are advertised in senior-oriented magazines and programs. Video games can make brain exercising more accessible and might help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
Effects on the Brain
In addition to possibly preventing Alzheimer’s disease, games have been found to improve brain function and improve speech in patients with Alzheimer’s and attention deficit disorder.
Dr Anderson-Hanley said: “Navigating a 3D landscape, anticipating turns and competing with others require additional focus, expanded divided attention and enhanced decision-making.
“The implication of our study is that older adults who choose exergaming with interactive physical and cognitive exercise over traditional exercise may garner added cognitive benefit, and perhaps prevent decline, all for the same exercise effort.”
Videogames can cause dementia in children
The playing of videogames can lead to worrying bouts of temporary dementia in children, according to leading UK neurologist Baroness Greenfield.
Greenfield’s contentious opinion comes via a report in The Sun newspaper, in which she suggests that “screen technologies cause high arousal,” in game players, “which, in turn, activates the brain system’s underlying addiction.”
Although the good Baroness has acknowledged that modern interactive platforms are able to inspire and harness human creativity, she now believes prolonged videogame exposure can cause the mind to effectively shut itself down when not engaged.
Speaking at a conference in Dorset, England, the neurologist pointed to potential dementia via videogames because the brain “can be temporarily disabled by activities with a strong sensory content or can be inactivated permanently by degradation”.
“There is a need to be outside, to climb trees and feel the grass under your feet and the sun on your face,” the scientist told conference attendees.
by Steven Mostyn
By Lachlan Mckinnon
The Daily Mirror