Older Generations Could Stave Off Alzheimer's By Playing Video Games

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07/12/2017 10:24 GMT

By now you’re probably used to hearing that sitting inside playing video games all day is really bad for your health (not to mention, giving you square eyes).

But it seems there could actually be one disease that gaming could stop from getting worse - or even prevent in some cases - Alzheimer’s.

This is as a study has found that for people aged between 55 and 75 years old, playing Super Mario 64 for thirty minutes a day was able to stave off mild cognitive impairment.

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In 2014 and 2017 two separate studies were conducted on a group of people in their twenties to see what affect gaming had on their hippocampus grey matter - the key region associated with spacial and episodic memory - and an important marker for neurological disorders.

They found that grey matter increased after training.

So a team from the University of Montreal wanted to see if they could replicate the results among healthy older people.

Recruiting 33 people, split into three groups, they asked one group to play Mario 64 for half an hour, daily, for six months, and another group to take up piano lessons (for the first time in their life).

The third group were not asked to perform any particular task.

The results (measured in both cognitive performance tests and MRI scans) showed that only the game players had increases in grey matter volume in the hippocampus and cerebellum. Their short-term memory also improved.

The tests also revealed gray matter increases in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and cerebellum of the participants who took piano lessons.

But some degree of atrophy (decrement in the size of the cell) was noted in all three areas of the brain among those in the passive control group.

Why do video games help fight Alzheimer’s? 

The reason video games are able to do this is because 3D video games engage the hippocampus into creative a cognitive map, or a mental representation, says Professor Gregory West.

West, said: “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.”

“It remains to be seen,” said West, “whether it is specifically brain activity associated with spatial memory that affects plasticity, or whether it’s simply a matter of learning something new”.

The team said these findings can also be used to drive research since they have established a clear link between the volume of the hippocampus and the risk of developing the disease.

Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, a degenerative and progressive neurological disease, affecting an estimated 850,000 people in the UK, according to the NHS.