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Video Game May Erase Effects of Aging on the Brain

Seniors who played a game designed by neuroscientists for a month multitasked as well as younger players

WebMD News from HealthDay

Youngsters in Australian study were a bit less

By Brenda Goodman

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 4 (HealthDay News) -- A specially designed video game may help sharpen mental skills that fade with age, a new study shows.

The study, which is published in the Sept. 5 issue of the journal Nature, tested a video game that was created by brain scientists and dubbed NeuroRacer.

The game requires players to multitask, or juggle several things that require attention at the same time.

People had to keep a car centered in its lane and moving at a certain speed while they also tried to quickly and correctly identify signs that flashed onto the screen, distracting them from their driving.

In a series of related experiments, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, showed that the ability to multitask suffers with age. But healthy seniors who regularly played the game were able to turn back the clock. After a month of practice, they were able to multitask even more effectively, on average, than younger adults.

The study suggests that the value of video games might extend beyond entertainment. Experts say video games may not only stave off the mental deficits that come with age, but could also help in the diagnosis and treatment of mental problems.

"I think people are soon going to use video games to collect data and to train [the brain]," said Dr. John Krakauer, director of the Brain, Learning, Animation and Movement Lab at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. "I think it's very promising. I think it's going to happen."

The study was conducted in healthy adults who were able to think and remember normally for their age. But researchers have already begun to test NeuroRacer to see if it might benefit people with ADHD or depression, two conditions that hamper the ability to pay attention and stay on task.

They said they're also developing four other games that will challenge different mental skills.

These games aren't likely to be sold in stores, but if further testing proves them to be valuable, researchers think they may one day make their way to doctors' offices.

"It would be a medical diagnostic and therapeutic, potentially even going the route of FDA approval," Dr. Adam Gazzaley, director of the Neuroscience Imaging Center at the University of California, San Francisco, said during a Tuesday news conference on the findings. Gazzaley is a co-founder of the company that is developing the next generation of the video game. The study was funded by Health Games Research, a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the U.S. National Institute on Aging.

For the research, scientists recruited 174 healthy adults aged 20 to 80. About 30 people from each decade of life were asked to play the NeuroRacer game to see how well they were able to multitask. These first tests showed that the ability to multitask gets worse with age. Adults in their 20s saw a 28 percent drop in performance when they were doing two things at once, while those in their 30s saw their performance drop about 39 percent.

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