When you think of a "gamer," you probably don't think of a 65-year-old woman spending her afternoon on the Wii. But think again — an estimated 26% of people who play video games are over the age of 50. What’s more, it turns out that some of those older "gamers" are reaping some very significant benefits as a result.
Here are some of the social, cognitive, and physical benefits video game technology has to offer seniors.
Better Emotional Well-Being
Doing anything you enjoy improves emotional health whether it be going for a walk, meeting friends for lunch, or going to see a movie. So, it's no surprise many seniors who enjoy playing video games find themselves in better moods.
A recent study of 140 seniors over 63 years old concluded that regular — and even occasional — video gamers reported greater well-being, social functioning, and health than non-gamers. Not only were those indicators positive, but the gamers showed significantly less depression than non-gamers.
Video games can provide physical benefits, too. Certain games that require physical interaction, like Wii Sports and similar titles, can help seniors improve balance, coordination, and reflexes due to the quick decision-making and action required to play. Some seniors have even reported faster walking speeds as a result of playing video games.
It may not be obvious at first, but improving cognitive skills can translate into improved balance and gait.
Enhanced Cognitive Ability
Not only do video games help emotionally and physically, but cognitively as well. In fact, a University of California San Francisco study showed significant improvement in cognitive ability, effectively reversing signs of aging, in seniors who played 3D video games.
Playing video games exercises a gamer’s memory, especially short-term memory. Playing even occasionally can help seniors remember things like names, addresses, phone numbers, date, and times. In addition, video games force players to switch quickly between different tasks. That can lead to increased mental flexibility and multi-tasking ability for seniors.
Reduced Risk of Alzheimer's
Amazingly, recent research has even demonstrated a link between playing video games and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s. With an estimated 5.5 million seniors suffering from Alzheimer's in the U.S. alone, that's a big deal.
The study looked at connections between 3D gaming and tissue growth in different areas of the brain — especially the hippocampus, an area associated with memory and Alzheimer’s progression. The study linked gaming with increased hippocampus gray matter in a group of 33 people between the ages of 55 and 75.
All The Benefits — Plus Lots of FUN
"They love it," says Katie, life enrichment director at Village Senior Residence in Missoula, Montana, an assisted living community that's residents play Wii bowling. "They think it's fun."It's not competitive, just great fun for players. "We encourage everyone to cheer for each other. That helps everyone have even more fun because they're cheering for everyone."
Of all the Wii Sports games, our residents tend to prefer bowling. "It's a fairly easy activity that many of them enjoyed before moving to our communities," she says.
It's one of many activities that residents both enjoy and benefit from.