Can Video Games Benefit the Cognitive Abilities of the Elderly Population?

Can Video Games Benefit the Cognitive Abilities of the Elderly Population?

Paulo Correia, Brigite Henriques
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch295
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Human aging is more than a mere process of physical changes, because it encompasses a complex interaction of many biological, cognitive, emotional, relational and social factors. An aging population is exposed to a greater vulnerability due to biopsychosocial losses that may be associated with the aging process of the individual. At the physiological level, all body systems may reflect the aging of its organs, including the nervous system. This process may include changes in the neurotransmitters, brain atrophy, cellular changes, decreased oxygenation and changes in blood flow in the brain, among others (Guerreiro, 2005). At the sociological level, the social losses that most commonly are due to aging involve the loss of significant others, loss of social support and loss of power. Several studies conclude that social support levels decrease with age, and there are also decreases in contacts with friends, in satisfaction with the support received and in anticipated support (Shaw, Krause, Liang, & Bennett, 2007). At the psychological level, there is plenty evidence of cognitive decline associated with aging (Albert & Killiany, 2001). It is at this level that the present work will place more emphasis, trying to demonstrate the importance of using video games by the elderly population, including the benefits that may be involved. The preservation and recovery of cognitive functions and physical, psychological and social autonomy are attained through mental and physical activities with a new vision. Like other activities, the use of video games have shown benefits for this population, namely at the cognitive level.

This work aims to show the importance of the use of video games by the elderly population, that is, to show that video games can be used as a protective factor in cognitive decline. We will perform a review of some of the research conducted in this area and present the main conclusions.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Fluid Intelligence: A person's ability to solve problems, especially new problems. Includes logical reasoning and concept formation. It’s the ability to solve problems that require no instructions and socio-cultural factors.

Executive Functions: Higher-order cognitive functions which have a role in the evolutionary and mental development.

Visual-Perceptual Functions: Cognitive functions which relate to visual and perceptive attention.

Aging: Set of modifications deriving from advancing age beyond the stage of maturity, noticing a progressive decrease in mental and physical abilities and skills.

Cognitive Abilities: The abilities to gain meaning and knowledge from experiences and information (perception, attention, memory, imagination, reasoning, thought, language).

Memory: Mental capacity of an organism to use past information to influence present actions. Information processing includes: encoding, storage and retrieval of information.

Cognitive Reserve: Resilience to brain damage, i.e., intellectual resources that protect the neural substrate from the effects of aging (such as deficits in attention and memory), and dementia.

Neuronal Plasticity: The capacity of the nervous system (neurons) to change its form and function (neuronal connections), throughout life, according to the adaptive environmental requirements.

Crystallized Intelligence: Involves knowledge that one has acquired throughout life. A person is able to solve problems based on experiences and existing knowledge. It is influenced by socio-cultural issues and may develop with age.

Perceptual Speed: The ability to quickly compare or recognize symbols or figures, or to carry out other simple tasks involving visual perception.

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