Good-bye Bingo: More seniors turn to technology to keep minds active

Tue, 09/25/2007 - 2:54pm
By: The Citizen

Good-bye Bingo, hello high tech. As today’s seniors search for ways to keep their minds active, some are turning from tradition to the latest gadgets typically reserved for the younger generation.

“Aging is about taking on new challenges for the mind,” said Dr. Elizabeth Zelinski, a professor of gerontology and psychology at the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California, who says video games are a good way to keep older adults’ minds active.
“Like kids, seniors are playing games with people all around the world,” she said.

Recently, health plan provider Evercare surveyed 100 Americans turning 100 and discovered that one in seven has played video games. PopCap Games in Seattle reported that its Internet video games have been downloaded more than 200 million times since the company was founded in 2000; a survey last year showed that 47 percent of the players were older than 50.

Retailers are seeing a trend, too. Billed as “a treadmill for the mind,” Nintendo’s hand-held Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day game with math, memory and brain jumbles is attracting the attention of graying gamers, as is the company’s interactive Wii system that lets seniors compete in sports like bowling and golf. Some senior centers are hosting Wii tournaments.

“Research shows that whether it’s a video game, a board game or a simple card game, exercising the mind keeps it young and vital,” said Beverly Fochtman, Client Services Coordinator of the Home Instead Senior Care office in Fayetteville, servingCoweta, Fayette, Clayton, Henry and South Fulton counties. “The popular phrase ‘use it or lose it’ holds true.”

Researchers in a study published just last year in Psychological Medicine from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, found that individuals with high brain reserve – the cumulative effect of formal education and mentally challenging work and leisure pursuits – have a 46-percent decreased risk of dementia than those with low brain reserve. Results showed that even a late-life surge in mental activity can stave off the effects of dementia.
One deterrent for many seniors who would like to stay mentally active is lack of companionship – particularly for those older adults who live alone.

“Sometimes seniors just need a little encouragement from family and friends to help them pursue interests that can keep their minds stimulated,” said Fochtman, who suggests a group game night or taking the senior to a concert or interesting lecture.

“Our caregivers see positive changes in seniors’ attitudes and well-being when they regularly play cards and other games, complete puzzles or simply listen to music,” she said. “And never underestimate the power of conversation.”
So what causes senior brain drain? From a scientific standpoint, multiple factors apparently contribute to a sluggish senior mind, said Dr. Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

“There is often a genetic component, and the environment plays a role as well,” said Petersen, the first physician to diagnose the late former President Ronald Reagan with Alzheimer’s disease. “The cumulative impact of medical issues such as vascular changes and hardening of the arteries also contribute to dementia. The connections between the nerve cells probably also don’t work as well.”
There are no hard and fast rules about what senior mind activities are the best in warding off the effects of aging, he said.

“Whether it’s a computer game, crossword or Sudoku puzzles, or reading and analyzing a newspaper or magazine, first and foremost seniors should like what they’re doing,” he said. “If the senior does not enjoy the activity, then it is not as likely to be beneficial.”

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