The Ultimate Gift For Your Mind

By David Blyweiss, M.D.

December 04, 2013

  • Video games aren’t just for kids anymore
  • Boost brainpower, memory and concentration
  • The ULTIMATE gift of love

Here’s a surprising twist on gift-giving.

Instead of buying your kids and grandkids video games as gifts this year, you might want to buy one for your spouse, parents or even your grandparents.

And if you’re like some of my patients, you may be secretly hoping there will be one under the tree for you, too.

These days it seems like almost everyone I know is playing some sort of video game.

They’re feeling bejeweled, scrabbled or just having fun crushing candy. Others are working out regularly with their Wii, Xbox or Nintendo sports games. And everyone is raving about them.

Ten or 20 years ago I might have told you it was pure folly and a waste of your time. I think I may have even told my kids that video games would rot their brains.

But these days I know better.

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Many of the video games available today can actually improve your brainpower, stave off age-related mental decline and keep you fit as you age. And it doesn’t even matter how old you are. They are suited for everyone.

The question then, is what’s the best choice of gaming for the special person (or people) in your life?

Action games are turning out to be quite the thing when it comes to improving decision-making skills, hand-eye coordination, multi-tasking and concentration levels.

Awhile back a group of researchers had a group of senior citizens play a racing game called NeuroRacer. And it sounds like it would be pretty fun to play.

The “driver” races a car around a track. However, while they’re racing, they have to keep their eyes out for a specific type of road sign – while ignoring all the other road signs they see. Then, each time they spot the right sign they have to push a button. The better they get at the game, the harder it becomes.

Now this might not sound like a big job. But multi-tasking is something many seniors have a hard time with. And this game helped improve their ability to process multiple tasks. In fact, after receiving just 12 hours of training on the game during a single month, these folks were able to play the game better than youngsters in their 20’s.

Just imagine beating your grandkids at a video game! I know a lot of seniors who would love bragging rights on that one.

But speed, performance and improved multi-tasking weren’t all they gained. They also showed hefty improvements in working memory and attention span.

A study on a comparable game called Road Tour/Double Decision had similar results.

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When tested against people who worked crossword puzzles, older folks playing this video game had much higher scores in executive function, concentration, processing speed and the ability to shift from one mental task to the next.

Better yet, the players gained up to four years of cognitive improvement – and it was still present when they were tested a year later.

Brain games are another winner. You’ve probably seen the TV and internet ads for Lumosity. I like the concept behind this type of product. I’ve even been on their website a few times to see exactly what it had to offer.

I have to admit… it seems likely that the combination of games on this website would improve reasoning skills, mental flexibility, visual memory, decision-making and more. However, there has been some debate in the medical community whether they really work or not.

That’s why I was excited when researchers finally took one of these “brain game” products and put it to the test.

They used a brain-fitness program called Dakim BrainFitness. It’s a program that uses somewhere around 400 different brain exercises. And it’s supposed to do all kinds of good things for your brain; like boost short- and long-term memory, improve language skills and visual processing… and even help improve reasoning, problem-solving and calculation skills.

After just six months, the results were great. The 80-some-year-old people who took part in the study had improvements in all of the areas mentioned above.

I’d say that’s a big win!

But when it comes to video gaming, I have a personal favorite. Are you ready for it?

Sitting in front of computer playing action videos and brain games can be fun, exciting… and maybe even somewhat addictive.

But mental stimulation isn’t the only thing your brain needs. It also needs fresh blood, oxygen and nutrients that come from giving your body plenty of physical activity.

This is exactly the route some of today’s most popular games are taking – combining brain fitness with physical exercise.

These games get people off their couches and moving again in a way that exercises both their bodies and their brains at the same time.

I’m talking about the WII fit games.

My patients absolutely love them. Games like the WII Sports package allow them to play tennis, golf, or just take a jog… right in their own living room. But there is an added twist.

Let’s say you’re jogging with your WII Sports game. During your journey, you’ll see all sorts of things. Then, when you get to the end of your jog, it will ask you questions – like how many brown dogs did you see while you were jogging?

This is great exercise for both the body and the mind.

So blow someone’s mind this year and treat them to the wonderful world of mental stimulation and physical activity. You may even want to get one for yourself.

It’s fun, exciting and yes… even a little addictive (but in a very good way!)

Resources:
Training the Older Brain in 3-D: Video Game Enhances Cognitive Control. News Release. U.C. San Francisco. Sept 2013.

University of Iowa (2013, May 1). Want to slow mental decay? Play a video game. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 22, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬ /releases/2013/05/130501192918.htm

University of California – Los Angeles Health Sciences (2013, June 25). Memory improves for older adults using computerized brain-fitness program. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 27, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬ /releases/2013/06/130625172352.htm

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