Working past retirement age is one way to keep your brain sharp. Playing video games might be another.
Practicing certain tasks in a video game can speed up mental processes and improve focus and memory, a study published in the journal Nature suggests.
“After training, [participants] improved their multitasking beyond the level of 20-year-olds,” co-author Adam Gazzaley told NPR — despite being more than three times that age.
Nearly 50 healthy people between ages 60 and 85 participated in the study, and it showed that playing actually changed their brains. Connections between visual processing parts of the brain and the parts that make decisions improved, NPR says, and so did brain wave patterns associated with focus. Those changes held up even after six months.
The video game was relatively simple, and custom-designed for the study. NPR describes it:
With assistance from some professional video game developers, Gazzaley’s lab came up with a multitasking driving game called NeuroRacer. The game has players perform two tasks simultaneously, Gazzaley says. One is to use a joystick to “navigate on this winding road that’s going left and right and up and down.” The second task is to hit a button whenever the player sees a road sign in the form of a green circle.
Participants originally played the game in the lab, and then were given a laptop version that they played three hours a week for one month, NPR says. So 12 hours a month translated into brain function to rival a 20-year-old’s.
Not fond of video games? Pop open a textbook instead. Reading difficult material and solving complicated math problems also help preserve mental ability, NPR says.