Game Development May Help Prevent Cognitive Decline

Since the days of Brain Age and Wii Sports, game studios have been hoping to help seniors stay sharp by encouraging them to play games. But according to a recent research project, seniors may have an even better time of things if they learn to make games, instead.

Fabio Ota, founder of of ISGame, has been teaching game programming to people over 60 for over 15 years, now. Recently, he set out to test the usefulness of that practice, working with a group of 46 people over the age of 60, with the aim of fostering logical reasoning and preventing cognitive decline.

Participants developed games using 2-D software that didn’t require coding. “The challenge begins with planning of the various levels of the game,” said Ota. “It continues with development of the storyline and choosing the objects to be used in each game level until the end product is ready.” This set of tasks requires both creativity and logical reasoning.

Over nine months, participants worked on developing their games. Ota used several well-known tests to measure and compare the performance of the experimental group against a control group, and a third group who learned to play games. Those tests included the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), Trail Making Test (TMT) and Scenery Picture Memory Test (SPMT).

“After the course, the group of game developers performed significantly better than the control and player groups,” Ota says, referring to indicators of mental health, quality of life, cognition and functional capacity. Some participants recognized the improvement. In interviews with the researchers, they mentioned “better concentration,” “more coordination,” “improved memory,” “mental agility,” “creativity” and “sociability.”

Many of the participants invited their children and grandchildren the play their games, making it a particularly social experience.