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Why gaming makes all sorts of sense for seniors 

The social benefit of gaming is one that cuts both ways.

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Get away from that screen or it will rot your brain. If those words, or phrases very similar, conjure up memories of school vacations sitting in front of the Atari or perhaps the Sega Genesis in the 1980s or 90s, chances are you look back with a wry smile at the concerns your parents had all those years ago. Today, we spend more time using screens than ever before.

The threat of brain rot never came about, and in fact, there is a growing body of evidence that the opposite could actually be the case. There are numerous health benefits associated with gaming, and not just for youngsters. The real irony surrounds those very people who were warning against the mental health perils of gaming 30 or so years ago. Most parents of kids growing up in the 80s and 90s are now grandparents in their 70s, and they constitute the demographic who can benefit most from getting into gaming. 

Staying sharp

The first thing to be aware of is that playing games to stay mentally astute in later years is nothing new. Crosswords, sudoku puzzles, card games, and even TV game shows have always been popular with the older generation, and their benefits are well documented. 

The tech age brings a wealth of apps and gadgets that provide a better choice of these sorts of games than ever before. Those who love doing the crossword in the newspaper, for example, can download an app that will give them thousands to choose from. The same applies to other types of puzzles, word searches and the like. 

Card players can access a great choice of casino gaming gadgets, from card shufflers to chip organizers. As well as making the game more fun, these can be a real godsend for those with arthritic fingers, who otherwise might find shuffling or fiddling with chips awkward and painful. Of course, there is also a wealth of games like these available via apps and online casino sites, so they can even do without the physical cards entirely if they wish. 

There is scientific evidence to back up the notion of staying sharp by playing conventional video games, too. One study tasked a group of 65 to 80-year-olds with playing a 3D multitasking game for half an hour each day over the course of a month. By the end of this period, they were able to out-perform gamers in their 20s who tried the game for the first time. Not only that, but their memory function and attention spans also showed marked improvement, and this was maintained for several months even after they had stopped playing.

Better physical fitness

A bigger surprise is that it’s not just mental health that benefits from gaming. Video games like Tetris that demand rapid decision-making and intense visual concentration have been shown to improve physical balance and to slow down the physical decline. 

Researchers set a group of older adults the task of playing an hour of Tetris three times a week for a ten-week period and assessed their physical abilities before and after. Those who had initially had the most problems walking showed the most marked change, but there were improvements across the board. The study concluded that video games could be a valuable tool in fall prevention for seniors. 

Other video games can have a more direct impact on physical fitness for the elderly. One of the more significant consequences that came when the Wii first hit the shelves was that it made gaming a far more social and cross-generational affair. Here was something that anyone could “have a go at” from the very young right up to their grandparents and even great-grandparents. As a result, there is a big drive towards developing a wider range of exergames, as they are known, with the specific aim of aiding senior fitness.  

Gaming makes you happy

All these benefits are great, but it is also important not to over-analyze things. The word “game” implies something we do for fun – to relax and enjoy a little idle time, either alone or with friends. We play games for enjoyment, and yet another study, this one led by Jason Allaire from North Carolina State University, examined the psychological functions of seniors who play games compared to those who do not. To cut through medical science-speak, his conclusions were, in essence, that gaming makes seniors happy and more socially outgoing. 

The sobering part of Allaire’s study comes when you look at the results from the opposite perspective. There has been plenty of media attention to loneliness and anxiety among seniors over recent years, and rightly so. Allaire found that instances of depression and negative emotions were markedly higher in those who never play games – but dropped dramatically even for those who only play two or three times per month.

Gaming keeps you in touch

Undoubtedly, the phenomenon of social gaming is a significant contributory factor in the above. Rewind to those Sega and Atari days for a moment – playing against the computer was one thing, but it was always far more fun and engaging to take on your friend. 

Social games in 2019 have taken that to a new level, and playing against real-world opponents brings a social aspect that is particularly important for seniors. Whether the opponent is a childhood friend they have known for 70 years or their teenage grandchild is neither here nor there. The point is that gaming provides a valuable platform for staying connected. 

Better still, the social benefit of gaming is one that cuts both ways. If you find yourself struggling to find the time to visit an older loved one as often as you like, why not get them set up so you can challenge them to some online gaming? And if you win, you get the added bonus of pointing out that you clearly didn’t rot your brain in those long-ago days after all!

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Chris has been blogging since the early days of the internet. He primarily focuses on topics related to tech, business, marketing, and pretty much anything else that revolves around tech. When he's not writing, you can find him noodling around on a guitar or cooking up a mean storm for friends and family.

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