Video games for aging brains

Those between 55 and 75 years old may want to try playing 3-D platform games like Super Mario 64 to stave off mild cognitive impairment and perhaps even prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

That’s the finding of a new Canadian study by Université de Montré- al psychology professors Gregory West, Sylvie Belleville and Isabelle Peretz.

The research team recruited 33 people, ages 55 to 75, who were randomly
assigned to three separate groups. Participants were instructed to play Super
Mario 64 for 30 minutes a day, five days a week; take piano lessons (for
the first time in their life) with the same frequency and in the same sequence; or
not perform any particular task.

The researchers evaluated the effects of the experiment at the beginning and at the end of the exercise, six months later, using two different measurements:
cognitive performance tests and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure variations in the volume of gray matter. This enabled them to observe brain activity and any changes in three areas: the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex that
controls planning, decision-making and inhibition; the cerebellum that plays a
major role in motor control and balance; and the hippocampus, the center of spatial and episodic memory.

According to the MRI test results, only the participants in the video-game cohort saw increases in gray matter volume in both the hippocampus and cerebellum.
Their short-term memory also improved. The hippocampus is the region of the brain primarily associated with spatial and episodic memory, a key factor in
long-term cognitive health.

The tests also revealed gray matter increases in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and cerebellum of the participants who took piano lessons, whereas some
degree of atrophy was noted in all three areas of the brain among those in the passive control group. When the brain is not learning new things, gray matter atrophies as people age.

The good news is that we can reverse those effects and increase volume by learning something new, and games like Super Mario 64, which activate the hippocampus, seem to hold some potential in that respect,” said West.

Added Belleville: “These findings can also be used to drive future research on Alzheimer’s, since there is a link between the volume of the hippocampus and the
risk of developing the disease.”

Source: Universite de Montreal

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