Seniors Enjoy Better Emotional Health from Playing Video Games
Results of the Study
Those who participated in the study were asked how often they played games before being given a series of tests. Approximately 61 percent of respondents said they played on occasion, with 35 percent admitting to playing at least one time a week. Results from the study showed better well-being over those who didn’t play video games at all. Those who said they never played had a tendency to experience more depression and felt more negative emotions.
The paper from the study, “Successful Aging Through Digital Games: Socioemotional Differences Between Older Adult Gamers and Non-Gamers,” was published in “Computers in Human Behavior.” The National Science Foundation supported the research. Authors of the paper included Dr. Anne McLaughlin, an assistant professor of psychology at NC State, Dr. Maribeth Gandy of the Georgia Institute of Technology, and NC State Ph.D. students Laura Whitlock, Amanda Trujillo and Landon LaPorte.
According to Dr. Jason Allaire, associate professor of psychology at NC State and a lead author of a paper which describes the findings of the study, “The research published here suggests that there is a link between gaming and better well-being and emotional functioning.” He goes on to say, “We are currently planning studies to determine whether playing digital games actually improves mental health in older adults.”
More Research on Seniors and Video Games
Research has shown a growth in the number of seniors who are playing online games. For example, PopCap Games conducted a customer survey, which showed 76 percent of the players are women. Seventy-one percent are over 40 years of age, while almost half (47 percent) are over the age of 50. PopCap Games is the maker of Bejeweled, a popular game with older adults.
Complex strategy games have benefits for mental health, according to research. Games such as Rise of Nations helps to improve memory and enhance cognitive skills. Playing these games can train the brain to maintain focus in other areas. The key is to improve at the game and continually be learning. Ezriel Kornel, M.D., of Brain and Spine Surgeons of New York in Westchester County, says new synapses form between the neurons in the brain when it’s learning something new, and these connections can be used in other situations.
According to Anne McLaughlin, the type of game played impacts what benefits the senior experiences. Not all games will provide the same benefits. Even when gaming skills improved, they didn’t always translate to outside activities. McLaughlin says unfamiliar games have the highest benefit. “Completely new tasks form new pathways in your brain,” she said. New and challenging seems to be the right combination for people to see the effects, rather than games which are challenging but familiar.
Some games provide specific mental benefits while others focus on physical aspects or the fun factor. For instance, a recent release, The Beatles: Rock Band is at least partially geared towards baby boomers and seniors and encourages physical activity. Other games, such as Brain Age, focus more on improving memory and enhancing visual recognition skills. The ability to stay focused and think quickly is essential in games of speed or those with time limits while critical thinking is necessary for many strategy games.
What this research tells caregivers and their loved ones is video games may have numerous benefits to enhance a senior’s emotional health. Once they find a game they like, the rewards of playing may extend beyond beating their last record or the competition and be evidenced by improvement in other areas of the person’s life.