Computer Game Can Improve Memory in Seniors

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Seniors who play a cognitive-training game can see improvements in their prospective memory after just one month of playing.

Nathan Rose, PhD, of the Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, and colleagues developed a computer board game, called Virtual Week, in which players simulate going through a day on a playing surface similarly to a Monopoly board. Players move their tokens through a virtual day, but have to remember to perform several tasks, such as taking medication or taking their dinner out of the oven.

Fifty-nine healthy adults between the ages of 60 and 79 were recruited and played 24 levels of the game over a one-month period. The difficulty of the game increased over the course of the study in terms of the number of tasks to be completed each day, and their complexity.

Measure of prospective memory — the kind needed for planning and everyday functioning — were taken before and after the study. The results were compared to two control groups: one which received a music-based cognitive training program, and the other with no program.

Prospective memory increased in those that played the game, the researchers reported in the journal Frontiers of Human Neuroscience. Also, the improvements led to significant improvements in real-world prospective memory, such as counting change and following medication instructions.

Brain imaging on some of the patients showed some evidence of neuroplasticity, or brain changes, related to improved prospective memory performance, especially with regards to the ability to stop oneself from carrying on with ongoing activities and switch to performing an intended action at the appropriate time.

Computer Game Can Improve Memory in Seniors
Brain imaging on some of the patients showed some evidence of neuroplasticity, or brain changes, related to improved prospective memory performance.

A new study has shown that just one month of training on a new computer game can help older adults strengthen prospective memory, the type of memory necessary for planning, everyday functioning, and independent living.

Older adults who played the cognitive-training game, called Virtual Week, “more than doubled” the number of prospective memory tasks performed correctly compared to seniors who performed other activities, such as taking music classes, according to researchers at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences in Toronto, Canada.

Prospective memory, which refers to the ability to remember and successfully carry out intentions and planned activities during the day, tends to weaken with age, the researchers noted. It accounts for between 50% to 80% of reported everyday memory problems, they added.

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