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Study: Video games give seniors a mental boost

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Worried that grandma or grandpa might be losing their edge? Get 'em in front of a game console -- fast!

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Eldery gamers see benefits (Cay Anderson-Hanley/Union College)

A new study published in the current American Journal of Preventive Medicine finds that select video games may have positive mental benefits for older adults, and could help stave off dementia.

As you might suspect, titles like Modern Warfare 3 and Assassin's Creed didn't make the list, but researchers found that exergames, like Wii Fit, resulted in better planning, memory, attention and problem-solving.

The study didn't use commercial software. Instead, researchers attached a racing game of sorts to an exercise bike. Seniors would race against an onscreen avatar that reflected their own best time on the course.

"We found that for older adults, virtual reality enhanced interactive exercise, or 'cybercycling' two to three times per week for three months, yielded greater cognitive benefit, and perhaps added protection against mild cognitive impairment, than a similar dose of traditional exercise," said Cay Anderson-Hanley, head researcher on the project and a psychologist at Union College in Schenectady, NY.

Over 100 adults, ranging in age from 58-99, participated in the study. They averaged three rides per week over three months. The rides weren't some sort of senior boot camp, though. Researchers say the subjects typically burned less than 100 calories per ride.

Exercise, in general, has been tied to cognitive ability, but as people get older, they tend to move less. Researchers found that only 14 percent of adults over age 65 exercise regularly. Once they cross the age of 70, that number slips to 7 percent.

Adding a gaming element takes some of the drudgery out of working out, and the competitive aspects of the experiment were pointed to as one of the favorite parts by those who took part in the study.

"Participants commented on their enjoyment of visual stimulation and the challenge of outpacing avatars," read the report. "One woman, aged 86 years, noted that she felt healthier and attributed this to actively maneuvering to 'compete with that fellow ahead of me!'"

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