It’s a sad fact of life that as we age, our cognitive skills decline. In particular, the “executive function” of our mind diminishes – this function is a key aspect of our memory, attention, perception, and problem solving skills. There may be help, however. Scientists from the University of Iowa are now claiming that by playing a specific video game, test subjects aged 50 and over were able to stop and even reverse the trend.

A team led by Prof. Fredric Wolinsky started with a group of 681 volunteers, and divided them into four groups. One of the groups was assigned to do computer-based crossword puzzles (as a control) for a total of 10 hours. The other three groups played an existing video game known as Road Tour – one group played for 10 hours in a lab, one group for 14 hours in a lab, and one group for 10 hours at home.

Within the game, users are briefly shown a vehicle and then called upon to pick it out from a rotating circular display of possibilities, amidst a number of distractions. As with most games, players advance as they improve, with each new level of game play proving more challenging than the last.

Gameplay screens from Road Tour

When tested a year later, subjects who played the game for 10 hours reportedly gained and retained an average of at least three years’ worth of cognitive improvement. The 14-hour group experienced an average gain of four years. The maximum improvement measured in any one individual participant was seven years.

As compared to the crossword puzzle-solving control group, the game players showed a particular improvement in “concentration, nimbleness with shifting from one mental task to another, and the speed at which new information is processed.”

A paper on the study was recently published in the journal PLOS One. Double Decision, which is the new version of Road Tour, is available online from Posit Science.

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