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Grand Gamers hitting mental high scores!

A unique study from the University of New England encouraging residents to participate in video games to re-engage their cognitive skills and improve their memory was tested at Feros Care Village’s Kingscliff and Byron Bay sites in New South Wales.

Psychology and Behavioural Science Researcher from the University of England, Alex McCord, with Feros Village residents, Hugh Webster and Lois Sanderson, playing video games. [Source: Feros Care]
Psychology and Behavioural Science Researcher from the University of England, Alex McCord, with Feros Village residents, Hugh Webster and Lois Sanderson, playing video games. [Source: Feros Care]

The resident gamers, all over the age of 80, were fighting evil forces regularly in the Star Wars: Battlefront video game, while also battling against dementia.

Psychology and Behavioural Science Researcher from the University of England, Alex McCord, studied the impact of gaming on the Feros Care residents' mental processes and found that it significantly improved their ability to switch tasks and maintain visual attention.

The benefits from gaming were sustained a full month afterwards, which has produced evidence that video games can be used for re-engaging the memory of people over the age of 80.

Ms McCord says, “Twice weekly gaming over three weeks also significantly improved working memory immediately after game play, but the gains regressed a month later. This suggests that game play should be ongoing to preserve its positive effects.”

There has already been significant research into the cognitive benefits of video gaming in the very young and people aged 70-79, but has not been widely studied in people over the age of 80 or among residential aged care residents.

Neuropsychological testing was undertaken by Ms McCord on the 24 participating residents across the Feros Villages before and after the program. The residents were following a controlled video game training plan.

Ms McCord explains, “Research supports the use of cognitive stimulation in ageing adults to manage the onset of dementia and to maintain neuroplasticity - the brain's ability to change throughout life.

"The widely held view is that neural engagement, physical exercise, new learning and cognitive training, when adopted as part of a healthy ageing lifestyle, can help compensate for brain degeneration. 

"I was keen to test whether gaming could serve as an enjoyable form of cognitive stimulation, and it certainly did. My results suggest that the genre of first-person action games, particularly, has the potential to positively influence cognition and executive function. 

"Exercising the brain through enjoyable, challenging activity is important, just as we exercise our bodies. Executive function processes govern the ability to operate a wheelchair, plan a schedule and follow through, or switch from one activity to the next, among other things. 

"If cognitive exercise can help compensate for the decline in these processes, seniors have another tool to help maintain their quality of life and independence."

Chief Executive Officer of Feros Care, Jennene Buckley, was happy with the result of the research and the positive effects it had on the participating residents' cognitive skills.

Feros Care has implemented regularly gaming into their residential care program at Feros Villages to provide fun with added cognitive health benefits.

Ms Buckley says, “At Feros we want our residents to live bold, healthy, connected lives, and gaming is helping them to do that.

"It's one way we can assist residents to stay in control of their ageing and to push the boundaries, while retaining some important physical and mental skills. 

"It's also a lot of fun. We have some very agile Jedi knights in our ranks."

Residents between the ages of 75 and 95 are actively participating in regular gaming in the weekly activity group called Grand Gamers at Feros Village Wommin Bay in New South Wales.

The Feros Village Byron Bay and Wommin Bay site have provided one on one sessions for residents who want to take that next step in their gaming and cognitive abilities.

Ms McCord is excited that the research was so successful, since she has a strong passion for mental health in the ageing population and achieving positive outcomes for older adults and their families.

"It's great to think that one day youngsters might have to hand over the console when grandma or grandpa comes to visit," says Ms McCord.

"There would be added benefits of gaming with younger people as it would likely lift spirits through the intergenerational connection. "For me, video games are just the start. Ultimately, I'd like to expand my research to investigate how other innovative technologies might support differing levels of dementia, as well as improve other cognitive functions." For more on Feros Care or their new gaming program, visit the Feros Care website.

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