A recent study conducted by the University of York has unveiled an intriguing connection between playing digital puzzle games and memory enhancement in older adults.
Contrary to the notion that mental faculties tend to decline with age, the research indicates that older individuals who engage in digital puzzle games exhibit memory abilities comparable to those in their 20s.
That's not all. The older puzzle 'gamers' were also better at keeping pesky distractions at bay. This heightened ability to ignore distractions may contribute to their improved memory capabilities. In contrast, older adults who engaged in strategy games did not exhibit the same level of memory enhancement or focus improvement.
As such, these findings open up new avenues for potential cognitive improvement strategies among seniors.
Enhanced memory and distraction management
Traditionally, it's been understood that cognitive abilities, including attention span and working memory, tend to diminish as people age. Working memory, which refers to the capacity to store and manipulate information temporarily, typically peaks in a person's 20s and 30s before gradually declining.
However, the new study indicates that it is possible to significantly slow down this decline and perhaps even reverse it through certain types of mental stimulation.
Earlier research suggested that action-oriented video games may have a positive effect on gamers' memory and ability to focus. However, the team at the University of York found that the discussion is much more nuanced.
Their analysis revealed that the action components of action video games, such as tracking opponents and reacting quickly, do not necessarily provide memory or attention benefits.
Instead, games that incorporate strategic elements such as planning and problem-solving appear to stimulate better memory and attention among younger participants. This effect, however, did not manifest in the same manner among older adults.
"More research is needed to understand why this is. We can't yet rule out that the strategy games played by older people are not as difficult as the games played by younger people and that the level of challenge might be important in memory improvement," said Dr. Fiona McNab, from the University of York's Department of Psychology.
Strategic vs. action-oriented gaming
The researchers conducted an online experiment in which participants were asked to list the digital games they played in the last week and how many hours a week they spend playing digital games. They were also asked to complete an online working memory task that required participants to memorize images, whilst being distracted.
The researchers then categorized the participants based on the type of games they predominantly played, such as action, strategy, or puzzle games.
The researchers then compared the working memory capacity and distraction resistance between the different game groups using a statistical analysis called ANOVA.
The study found that younger adults who played strategy and action games had better working memory capacity and were more resistant to distraction than those who did not play these types of games.
However, re-categorizing the games according to their constituent game types revealed superior working memory capacity and distraction resistance associated with strategy but not action game components.
Finally, older adults over the age of 60 who played puzzle games had better working memory capacity and were more resistant to distraction than those who did not play these types of games.
Looking ahead, the researchers suggest that further investigations could delve into the underlying reasons for the varying impacts of different game types based on age. Such endeavors might even shed light on how the brain stores information as people age.
The findings appeared in the journal Heliyon.
The following table lists all the puzzle and strategy games mentioned by the study participants.
|Angry Birds||Puzzle & Strategy|
|Ball sort puzzle||Puzzle|
|Civilisation V||Puzzle & Strategy|
|Deltarune||Puzzle, Strategy & Action|
|Demos of Terra Nil||Puzzle & Strategy|
|Fit and Squeeze||Puzzle & Strategy|
|Grandia II||Puzzle & Strategy & Action|
|Harry Potter Puzzles & Spells||Puzzle|
|Hearthstone||Puzzle & Strategy|
|It takes two||Puzzle & Strategy & Action|
|Jewels of Egypt||Puzzle|
|Jewels of Rome||Puzzle|
|Jewels of the Wild West||Puzzle|
|Kentucky Route Zero||Puzzle|
|Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild||Puzzle & Strategy & Action|
|Lego Harry Potter||Puzzle & Action|
|Lost Ark||Puzzle & Strategy & Action|
|Magic Tiles 3||Puzzle & Strategy|
|Ni No Kuni II||Puzzle & Strategy & Action|
|Nonogram||Puzzle & Strategy|
|Papa pear saga||Puzzle|
|Phasmophobia||Puzzle & Strategy & Action|
|Planet Zoo||Puzzle & Strategy|
|Portal 2||Puzzle & Strategy & Action|
|Sparkle Bubble Shooter||Puzzle|
|Super Jigsaw Puzzle||Puzzle|
|Teardown||Puzzle & Action|
|Tetris||Puzzle & Strategy|
|Words with friends||Puzzle|