Scientists created a video game that helps older adults’ short-term memory

4 mins read

What if playing video games might actually improve our cognitive abilities in addition to being an entertaining way to pass the time? This is the claim made by a brand-new musical rhythm game that claims to teach drumming and enhance short-term memory.

47 adults between the ages of 60 and 79 were divided into two groups to test the effects of the game. One group played the musical rhythm game Rhythmicity, while the other played a standard word search game for 20 minutes each day, five days a week, for eight weeks.

The difference between the two groups was evident: Rhythmicity’s methods for targeting visual perception and selective attention had an impact on short-term memory, as measured by a facial recognition exercise, as participants advanced in the game.

According to the researchers’ published work, “as predicted, only the rhythm training group showed enhanced short-term memory on a face recognition task, so providing vital evidence that musical rhythm training can benefit performance on a non-musical task.”

Rhythmicity was created with former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and taught people how to play a beat on a tablet using visual cues. As players advanced, the tempo, complexity, and level of precision demanded were all adjusted.

The game’s ability to adjust to the user by changing the level of difficulty to challenge them to get better without ruining their gaming experience is one of the things that makes it unique.

Electroencephalography (EEG) was used for the post-training analysis during a recognition task involving unidentified faces. After the eight-week session, rhythmicity players performed better at recognizing faces, and EEG tests revealed greater activity in the superior parietal lobule, the part of the brain associated with sight-reading music and short-term visual recall.

According to neurologist Theodore Zanto of the University of California, San Francisco, “That memory improved at all was astounding” (UCSF).

A significant part of this involves memory training, and it generalized to other types of memory.

The study’s authors have been working in this area since 2013, when they created the video game NeuroRacer, which has been found to significantly increase working memory and sustained attention in older individuals after just four weeks of play.

The game Body-Brain Trainer, which has been shown in a recent study to be able to increase blood pressure, balance, and attention in senior persons, was played after that. Heart rate information was then continuously supplied back into the program so that the game could adjust to the players’ fitness levels.

After four weeks of training, a different game—the virtual reality Labyrinth, which encourages players to use spatial navigation—has shown it can help older adults’ long-term memory.

These games show that there are ways to keep our minds fresh despite the fact that cognitive control often declines as we age.

“These games all have the same underlying adaptive algorithms and approach, but they are using very, very different types of activity. And in all of them we show that you can improve cognitive abilities in this population,” says neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley from UCSF.

The research has been published in PNAS.



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