Boosting Brain Health in Seniors: “Name of the Game”

Whenever a TV is on, an ad is playing touting better brain health by playing games. But does it live up to the hype? Yes. And no.

Recently, one of the major fee-based brain training companies paid a $2 million fine to the Federal Trade Commission for misleading claims in those pervasive TV ads.

Yet scientific research continues to show the benefits of mental stimulation on brain health. While games often are used in children—especially those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—the latest research shows positive impact on seniors.

A recent NBC News report featured research from the University of California San Francisco that showed seniors playing an online video game dramatically improved their ability to multitask. They were able to perform as well as those decades younger. They retained the ability to perform better on cognitive tasks for months.

Games CroppedRecent research shows that brain-stimulating games can improve ability to multitask and perform cognitive tasks.

Other research has raised questions about whether the brain activity has long-term benefits. Working a Sudoku puzzle may stimulate the brain, but as the game becomes easier—and the activity more rote—the brain is not as needed to complete the task. Other studies have shown that the stimulation may not translate to other brain-related tasks such as memory or cognitive functions.

What is certain, though, is this is an area with significant interest. In 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) began the early steps of a rule change that could reimburse the costs of memory fitness activities for seniors. As of yet the rules have not changed, if they do they’ll likely be very targeted to including specific games that have been validated to improve or maintain cognitive functioning.

While there may be questions related to brain games, one thing is clear: they shouldn’t get in the way of physical activity. Research has shown that the brain needs physical and mental stimulation to remain healthy.  So just like the grandkids need to be reminded to turn off the video games and get outside, seniors would benefit from the same advice.

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