Studies show that playing video games can improve memory and balance, prevent dementia, and can help us bond with other gamers.
When you think of a “gamer,” the first image that comes to mind probably isn’t someone who’s already retired. You also might not think of video games having many health benefits for, well, anybody. But video games actually have been shown to be rewarding in all sorts of ways for older gamers.
“There are a range of ways video games can positively impact older adults,” Alison Bryant, senior vice president of research for AARP, told CBS News. “One is staying socially connected and active, and that’s something we’ve seen continue to grow over time.”
You might be surprised to learn a lot of older people are already aboard the video game train. According to the website Statista, 16% of people who play video games are over the age of 55. A study conducted by the Entertainment Software Association also found that 25% of men and 22% of women said they’ve been playing video games for more than 25 years.
The health benefits of video games
Here are just a few benefits that might motivate you to pick up a controller.
- More brain power. A study out of UC San Francisco found that playing a specially designed 3-D video game boosted brain power in older adults. Memory, attention span, and the ability to multitask all showed improvement. Video games have also been shown to improve a person’s reaction time.
- Improved emotional well-being. Unsurprisingly, when we do something we enjoy, our emotional health improves. Many older gamers find interacting with other players adds to that emotional satisfaction. In fact, 71% of older gamers report that playing helps them bond with friends and family. And 55% say that the games improve their mental health.
- Better balance. Video games like Wii Sports, which require the players to be physically active and engaged, can help players work on their balance, reflexes, and coordination. One study even found Wii-based training games improve balance as well as more traditional exercises do.
- Dementia prevention. A study from 2020 suggests that playing a half hour of 3-D immersive video games every day may help you combat dementia. Another study found that older adults who regularly played Super Mario 64 saw an increase in gray matter in key areas of the brain. (That’s right, Super Mario. Who knew?)
As you can see, the health benefits for playing video games are real. And bonus – you get to have fun, too!
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Best games for older adults
If you’re new to video games, you might not know where to start. Below are some suggestions for games that are particularly popular among older adults.
- Nintendo Switch Sports. Nintendo Switch replaced the old Wii gaming system, but the Sports product follows the same concept. Sports uses motion-sensory technology that requires you to be physically active. You can play tennis, volleyball, soccer, and more. Switch comes with multiple controllers, so you can play with up to three other people, all in the comfort of your own home.
- Animal Crossing. This Nintendo game has been around for more than 20 years and is quite popular among older adults. The game involves social interaction and creative thinking skills, and it features themes of family, friendship, and community. Players’ characters hunt, go fishing, garden, and collect fossils.
- Minecraft. This 3-D strategy game is often described as online Lego building, where you can design and be creative. It’s extremely popular with both kids and adults, which makes it a great way to connect with grandchildren! One study showed that the game significantly improved adult memory.
- Words with Friends. If you love Scrabble, then you’ll really love Words with Friends, which is basically a digital version of the classic board game. Play with a friend or in solo mode.
- Candy Crush. This classic puzzle game was released in 2012. With its straightforward objective and user-friendly interface, it has become one of the most popular games of all time.
There are thousands of video games out there–truly, something for everyone. Do a quick Internet search of the type of game you’d be interested in and see what comes up. Good luck, and happy gaming!
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