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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Video Game May Sharpen Older Minds

Study: Older Adults Boost Memory, Reasoning by Playing Strategic Video Game 'Rise of Nations'
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 12, 2008 -- Playing strategic video games may improve memory, reasoning, and other "executive" mental skills in older adults.

That's according to a new study published in Psychology and Aging.

The study included 39 healthy older adults (average age: 69-70) living near the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. None of them were video game players when the study started.

First, participants took various mental skills tests. Next, they were split into two groups.

Over the next two months, people in one group played a strategic video game called Rise of Nations for 15 sessions, with each session lasting 90 minutes. For comparison, people in the other group didn't play any video games.

In Rise of Nations, each player picks a country and their tasks include claiming more territory, building cities, building "wonders" within cities, managing infrastructure, defending against enemies, and using tools such as diplomacy and espionage. It's geopolitical wheeling and dealing, requiring multitasking and equal parts cunning and bravado -- Machiavelli crossed with Napoleon.

"You need merchants. You need an army to protect yourself and you have to make sure you're spending some of your resources on education and food," researcher Chandramallika Basak, PhD, says in a news release. "This game stresses resource management and planning, which I think for older adults is important because many of them independently plan and manage their resources.

Video Game Players' Advantage

When the experiment ended, all participants had their mental skills tested again.

Compared with people who hadn't played any video games, the Rise of Nations players showed greater improvement of their working memory, short-term memory, reasoning, and ability to switch tasks.

The researchers note that they don't know if the results would have been different if the comparison group had played a different type of video game instead of sitting on the sidelines.

The researchers report no ties to the maker of Rise of Nations; the study was funded by a grant from the National Institute on Aging.

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