Older adults who play video games are happier and have greater emotional well-being, according to research just out from North Carolina State University, which also points out that most seniors do play at least some video games.
The researchers asked 140 people age 63 and older about their video game habits, then gave them a battery of tests to look at emotional and social health. The seniors were an average of 77.47 years old and were divided into groups that occasionally, regularly or never game. They found that 61 percent of those they surveyed play video games at least occasionally and more than a third play at least once a week.
The findings were published online in Computers in Human Behavior and will come out in the print journal in July.
"The research published here suggests that there is a link between gaming and better well-being and emotional functioning," said Jason Allaire, lead study author and associate professor of psychology at North Carolina State, in a written statement. "We are currently planning studies to determine whether playing digital games actually improves mental health in older adults."
The study looked at well-being, positive affect, negative affect, depression, social functioning and self-reported health. The researchers said the findings "suggest that playing may serve as a positive activity associated with successful aging."
MedcalXpress noted that "those who did not play video games reported more negative emotions and a tendency toward higher levels of depression."
Allaire told Slate that he was a bit surprised by the finding that seniors who play video games tend to function better in other aspects of their lives than their non-gaming peers.
Allaire told the Deseret News that the study did not answer the question of whether adults who enjoyed substantial well-being were more likely to play video games or whether the games themselves conferred the well-being. But, he said, "It is my sense that playing games can lead to increased well-being. Ten years ago studies like ours found a correlation between playing video games and better performance on some cognitive ability tests. Now we have studies to show that they cause the improvements. So like those earlier studies, we have shown the first evidence of a link and more studies need to be done to establish causation."
Video games and online games have for some time been promoted as helpful to healthy aging and various options are available, including subscription sites that say they target mental acuity and how to maintain it.
“There are lots of websites that offer brain training games for older adults and make them pay a subscription fee,” Allaire told Slate's Jason Bittel. “I think those might be good for some people, but I would recommend that older adults on a limited budget just do anything they enjoy on a computer — whether it’s solitaire or Bejeweled. They can get what they need out of those games, and they don’t have to buy a PS3 to do it.”
This is one in a series of research projects led by Allaire and co-author and psychologist Anne McLaughlin, who in July of 2009 were given a grant to see if video games could indeed slow mental decline in the aged. "The theory is that the strategy, memory and problem-solving skills necessary for mastering certain games may translate to benefits in the real world, beyond a glowing computer screen," wrote Time reporter Anita Hamilton.
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