Happiness is a warm controller: Study shows that gaming can help the elderly lead happier lives

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Video games are good for you. Studies conducted over the past fifteen years have shown that games can do everything from improve problem solving acumen to help fight the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, and can even lower feelings of hostility. As the Violent Content Research Act of 2013 plums forward to study the effects of violent video games on children, other researchers are finding more and more evidence of how games can aid seniors. A new study by North Carolina State researchers has found that games can help older people feel better about life – they can make people happy.

In their study “Successful aging through digital games: Socioemotional differences between older adult gamers and non-gamers,” NC State researchers, Dr. Jason Allaire and Dr. Anne McLaughlin, surveyed 140 people 63-years-old and up about how often they played video games, and their feelings of well-being, both social and emotional.

Their findings were enlightening. “The research published here suggests that there’s a link between gaming and better well-being and emotional functioning,” said Dr. Allaire, bringing a smile to all those senior still carrying around a Nintendo DS with Brain Age in it, “We are currently planning studies to determine whether playing digital games actually improves mental health in older adults.”

Most telling, the study found that even seniors who only played games occasionally tended to think of their lives as emotionally and socially good. Those that didn’t play games tended towards negative emotions and even more cases of depression.

Seniors haven’t replaced the all-encompassing 18- to 35-year-old male demographic that keeps the engine of the video game industry running quite yet, but games and game hardware are increasingly becoming fixtures in senior living. The Windows Kinect SDK has allowed medical professionals and researchers to use the Kinect for more than making Han Solo do an awkward jig. The University of Missouri, for example, started using Kinect for physical therapy sessions in 2011. The motion sensor can be used to monitor how elderly patients move and help prevent falls that might break fragile bones. The National Senior League of bowlers actually hosts a championship tournament using only Wii Sports, since it offers a close approximation of the sport but little of the physical impact.

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