Older adults?

Like many other people (especially older ones), I took note of the announcement that cognitive scientists have tested a video game that they say “can improve the short term memory and long term focus of older adults,” according to an article in the New York Times.

The game is a far cry from the graphics intensive role player games that are all the rage these days, with simple graphics and little to do but guide a car and identify designated road signs without being thrown off by others. Even so, researchers say that once older adults have been trained and used the game for a while, they can perform better at it than twenty-somethings who are playing it for the first time.

Following sufficient game time, older adults also perform better on other tests of cognition unrelated to the game, researchers said, and even show an increase in brain waves called “theta,” which are associated with attention.

Adam Gazzaley, who led the $300,000 project at the University of California, San Francisco, said “We made the activity in older adults’ prefrontal cortex look like the activity in younger adults’ prefrontal cortex.”

That’s quite a claim.

While the article contains several caveats from scientists who are concerned that having older adults play video games could have unintended side effects, it’s good to see any progress being made toward helping golden agers maintain mental acuity.

I’m particularly interested in that because, according to the researchers, I’m an “older adult”: the project involved people in their 60s to their 80s, and I’m in the lower end of that spectrum.

I don’t feel old and try not to act old, and I’d like for it to stay that way. So, tricks to keep the brain young are always welcome: I can add them to my repertoire of Sudoku puzzles, keeping a running total of groceries in my head, and generally trying to maintain mental vigor.

I know the math sounds off, but for those who stay fit and active, I figure 60 can be the new 40, with or without video games.

Any other old codgers with me on this?

2 Comments

  1. From a fellow old codger–and former university and seminary professor: Don't have any empirical studies, just anecdotal reflections. My take on the issue is that the best way to keep the brain active is to keep the brain active.

    I'll spare you my ego trip of recreational pursuits' catalogue through the years and simply say that taking up new interests ever few years kept me busy learning about them in magazines and books as well as out practicing them. I learned a lot of things about a lot of different things. I continued such activities well past retirement, although not the conventional "golf or bridge" route.

    One pursuit started actually before retirement but continued on into my 80s has been work with computers. In the late 1970s I began to use a computer in business; learned to program; then taught simple introductory classes; then took some programming classes. In the 1990s, after retiring, I took some additional classes, eventually getting into maintenance. In 2004 I began receiving donations of replaced computers, repairing and refurbishing them, and re-homing them with needy recipients. Refurbishing an average of about four a week for nine years has not only kept me busy and active, but also keeping up with changing technology has kept my brain engaged.

    I don't know whether I'm any more cognitively alert or acute that I was ten or twenty years ago, but I enjoy maintaining the self image that my mind is still at work and not slipping significantly, although I do have to admit giving up flying airplanes after fifty years for fear I might run afoul of some new regulation I was not aware of and get "ticketed." Decided to stop while I was ahead. But at least there aren't any computer police looking over my shoulder checking my refurbishing work; machines either work or they don't.

    As they say: Use it or lose it.

    The unexamined life is not worth living.

    And to be self-determined is to be free.

    Stay at least one step ahead of your students and you'll probably be OK.

  2. I retired officially in my 60s (locomotive engineer) but worked with a friend in his business putting together computers for a few years, actually clones of IBMs then. The parts came from Asia and could be secured overnight. I did some other stuff, one being an editor for an online Christian newsletter for a year-and-a-half. I even taught a term in a business college at age 73. As I turned 70, I decided to try writing novels. That was so much fun I wrote some more and then tried other genres—short stories, poetry, political satire, even a personal theology. My greatest passion was writing hymns, both words and music. All of this stuff is commercially available but I’ve made nothing from it and don’t claim any of it should see the light of day. It has kept my mind engaged. I don’t know if it has protected me from some sort of dementia (I suspect some folks would consider me at least half-nuts anyway) but I’m convinced that some sort of creative effort is valuable. Also, physical exercise, I think, is extremely important, as well as not letting physical impairments get in the way of that by worrying that exercise might not be a good idea. I’m 83 and keep a web-site and blog up to date, and I suspect that helps in keeping the brain exercised. Perhaps the brain is like every other “muscle”—use it or it atrophies.

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