A new study led by neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley of the University of California, San Francisco has concluded that if a game is made to specifically target a cognitive deficit, it can improve the daily life of the person in question. The study also shows that other, non-targeted cognitive areas can benefit as well.
The study, which was published in Nature, used a game called NeuroRacer that was designed to help the elderly improve their multitasking abilities. Where many studies have long held that gaming can improve cognitive functions, not many have been able to show that the increased cognitive responses actually translate to improved results in daily activities. Using a group of 30 test subjects ranging in age from 20 to 70, Gazzaley and his team had them play the game to confirm that multitasking abilities deteriorate with age. The researchers then brought in a second group of 46 subjects, all between 60 and 85 years of age, and had them play – or train – on the game for a four week period.
Once the month long session was complete, the subjects were tested against 20 year olds that didn’t know the game but were expected to have better multitasking abilities, and therefore would normally be expected to do well with the game. The elderly test group regularly achieved higher scores than 20 year olds, and more importantly, those skills remained for more than six months without practice.
While the focus of the experiment was specifically multitasking, the research team also tested for other cognitive improvements, even those not targeted by the game. There was noticeable and measurable improvement in several areas, including memory and sustained attention. The tests also revealed a general increase in neurological activity.
NeuroRacer is a fairly simple racing game, where the participant controls the car through twists and turns with their left hand, while color coated signs pop up. Certain signs appear that require the player to shoot them with a trigger on their right hand, encouraging them to constantly focus their attention on multiple things at once. Gazzaley recently helped to form the company Akili, which plans to introduce a similar product commercially in the near future.
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