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Aging brains benefit from video game

September 10, 2013
by Lois A. Bowers, Senior Editor
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Playing video games could keep older brains young, according to research from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), published in Nature.

Investigators there found that study participants—aged 60 to 85 years—who played a specially designed 3-D video game experienced a reversal in the negative effects of aging on their brains. In the game, named NeuroRacer, participants raced a car around a winding track, pressing a button whenever a particular sign appeared. After 12 hours of training that took place over a month, participants improved their ability to multitask until their performance surpassed that of 20-somethings playing the game for the first time.

The training also improved participants’ performance in two other cognitive areas: working memory and sustained attention. Participants maintained their skills at the video games six months after the training had ended.

“The finding is a powerful example of how plastic the older brain is,” says Adam Gazzaley, MD, PhD, UCSF associate professor of neurology, physiology and psychiatry and director of the university’s Neuroscience Imaging Center. He also co-founded a company called Akili Interactive Labs that is developing the next generation of the video game, notes a university press release.

Gazzaley’s group found evidence of a possible brain mechanism that may explain the improvements as well as why these gains transferred to other cognitive areas. Electroencephalograph recordings point to changes in a neural network involved in cognitive control.

“Follow-up studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging and transcranial electrical stimulation are still needed to better understand exactly how this network is involved in the performance changes,” Gazzaley says.

The study was funded under Health Games Research, a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and by the National Institute on Aging.

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