3D game ‘boosts multi-task skills’
Wednesday 4th September 2013, 6:00PM BST.
A specially designed 3D video game can rejuvenate the ageing brain, boosting memory, improving focus, and honing multitasking skills, researchers have found.
The game, developed by American scientists, involves racing a car around a winding track while a range of road signs pop up.
Players are instructed to watch out for a specific sign while ignoring all the others and to press a button whenever it appears.
Performing well in the game requires the ability to multitask driving the car and responding to the signs.
In tests, just 12 hours of training spread over a month improved the performance of 60 to 85-year-olds until it surpassed that of 20-somethings playing the game for the first time.
Playing the game also improved two other key areas of mental ability that deteriorate with age – working memory and sustained attention.
“The finding is a powerful example of how plastic the older brain is,” said lead researcher Professor Adam Gazzaley, director of the Neuroscience Imaging Centre at the University of California in San Francisco.
Prof Gazzaley said the game, called NeuroRacer, is designed to keep pushing people harder, overcoming the natural tendency to go onto “automatic pilot” once a skill is learned.
“Normally, when you get better at something, it gets easier,” he said. “But with this game, when you get better, it gets harder.”
He has co-founded the company Akili Interactive Labs to develop the next generation of the video game.
Writing in the journal Nature, the researchers told how the challenges of NeuroRacer altered a key neural network in older players’ brains so that its activity began to resemble that of younger adults. This was confirmed by brainwave measurements.
“We see this as evidence that the training may have improved our study participants’ ability to stay in an engaged, active state for a longer period of time,” said Dr Joaquin Anguera, a member of Prof Gazzaley’s team.
The scientists now plan follow-up studies with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to get a better idea of how the game affects the brain.
They believe the findings could have wider implications for treating brain conditions such as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and dementia.
Dr Simon Ridley, from the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “This small study provides useful new insight into some of the brain changes that occur as we age, and highlights a potential way people may be able to withstand these changes.
“This study did not look at people with dementia, but one next step could be to investigate how this type of training may affect people with the condition.
“The ability to improve cognitive health in old age could be crucial in the search for new treatments and preventions for dementia, but we must invest in research to make this a reality.
“There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that mental activity may help make the brain more resilient as we get older.
“This research suggests that the type of activity may be important, but we would need to see larger studies to understand the full effects of training with this video game.”