A growing body of research points to evidence that computer and video games can have a beneficial impact on the cognitive functioning of older adults. Given the substantial implications that such findings have for an ever-growing older adult population, this area of research has begun to pique the interest of researchers worldwide. This paper briefly summarizes the literature in this area and presents preliminary findings stemming from the initial implementation of a multiyear study examining the impact of a Nintendo DS video game, Brain Age, on the cognitive functioning of healthy adults aged 65 and older. In addition, based upon the evidence presented herein, the paper offers a structured approach to playing Brain Age that has been linked to improvements in cognitive functioning among older adults.
Cognitive impairment among older adults, even minor impairment in individuals free of any form of dementia, has consistently been linked to poorer psychological functioning (Wong, Wetterneck, & Klein, 2000). For instance, Lagana & Sosa (2004) found that minor cognitive impairment was more strongly associated with depressive symptoms than widowed and socioeconomic status among community-dwelling older women. Although problems resulting from minor cognitive impairment often interfere with psychological well-being, such negative outcomes are clearly exacerbated by more severe forms of cognitive impairment, such as Alzheimer’s disease (Devi, 2004). In fact, Alzheimer’s disease is by far the most common and severe form of dementia, affecting approximately 4.5 million Americans (NIH, 2007). In spite of the recent progress in treating Alzheimer’s disease, there is presently no cure for the disease.
However, a burgeoning body of research seemingly indicates that the effects of the disease can be mitigated, and potentially prevented, through continued participation in mentally stimulating activities (Hertzog, Kramer, Wilson, & Lindenberger, 2009). While the research literature in this area is relatively sparse, it has demonstrated computer games’ positive impact on the cognitive ability of the elderly (Dustman, Emmerson, Steinhaus, & Dustman, 1992; Farris, Bates, Resnick, & Stabler, 1994; Hertzog et al., 2009).
For instance, video game play has also been shown to improve knowledge acquisition and retention among older adults (Ricci, Salas, & Cannon-Bowers, 1996). In addition, Tarraga et al. (2006) found that playing computer games throughout a period of 24 weeks helped to stave off the cognitive loss resulting from various forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. While video games can potentially enrich older adults’ cognitive functioning, there is also evidence that partaking in such activities can improve an older person’s emotional well-being (Goldstein, Cajiko, Oosterbroek, Michielsen, van Houten, & Salverda, 1997; Hertzog et al., 2009). In an experiment with 22 community-dwelling older adults (aged 69 to 90), Goldstein and colleagues (1997) found that those who played Nintendo’s Super Tetris at home for five hours per week for five weeks demonstrated faster reaction times and a more positive sense of well-being compared to their nonplaying counterparts (Goldstein et al., 1997).