I’m pretty old, I’m not going to lie. My reflexes are going, my eyesight is fading. To quote William Shakespeare:
Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
The human brain is an organ with high plasticity. This phenomenon is also known as neuroplasticity. These interchangeable terms:
Refer to changes in neural pathways and synapses which are due to changes in behaviour, environment and neural processes, as well as changes resulting from bodily injury.
This process slows down from the moment we hit our early thirties. I am a panda of very little brain as it is, which is why I was rather pleased this morning to read an interesting article on gamasutra.com about how brain-training games can help the elderly to develop specific skill sets.
One study, conducted at the University of San Francisco and led by Adam Gazzaley, an associate professor of neurology, physiology and psychiatry showed that videogames can help to develop an older person’s multi-tasking abilities:
They tested a group of older adults with a 3D driving game that involved hitting a button when the participant saw a specific sign. It turned out that playing the game really did improve a person’s multitasking skills.
The game was relatively simple: a player drove a car on a windy road, using a joystick to control it. When a specific sign popped up, such as a red octagon like a stop sign, the participant was asked to push a button. If a different sign popped up, she was told to do nothing. If she hit the button at the wrong sign, it counted against her.
The researchers looked at the performance of a group of 16 people aged 60 to 85. They found that just 12 hours of training spread over a month dramatically improved the ability of the individuals in the group to pick out the right signs. Some people even did as well or better than 20-year-olds playing for the first time.
I’m not sure why these scientists all seem to have such an attraction to car and racing games, but regardless, another study has shown that
Analyzing 681 healthy people aged 50 and up, scientists found that those who played a "Road Tour" video game for at least 10 hours -- which required them to identify "vehicles" among an ever-faster array -- gained at least three years of cognitive (mental skill) improvement after one year. A group that received four additional hours of training with the game improved their thinking abilities by four years.
All of this information sounds like a major selling point, but because of journalistic ethics or some crap like that I should present to you the not-so-positive findings in this regard:
A pair of scientists in Europe recently gathered all of the best research—twenty-three investigations of memory training by teams around the world—and employed a standard statistical technique (called meta-analysis) to settle this controversial issue. The conclusion: the games may yield improvements in the narrow task being trained, but this does not transfer to broader skills like the ability to read or do arithmetic, or to other measures of intelligence. Playing the games makes you better at the games, in other words, but not at anything anyone might care about in real life.
However, I’m not sure that I entirely agree with the above statement. I myself can attest to the fact that practicing such tasks can help regain abilities lost. I had a bunch of brain complications at the beginning of the year that resulted in my losing my ability to spell. I used to be pretty good at spelling actually; and it was rather frustrating to find myself typing a word, seeing the little red line underneath and knowing it was wrong, but not having any idea at all how to fix it. However, I’ve obviously been typing a lot due to my job at MWEB and I’m pleased to announce that I seem to have regained most of my abilities due to all this practice.
Thus I say that if videogames offer one the same opportunity to regain such lost skills, then we aren’t we getting more involved? I’m not saying that videogames of this sort offer salvation for everyone, but they could definitely be a very useful rehabilitation tool.
Perhaps they won’t alter your level of intelligence, but at least you might get the opportunity to be able to do crosswords puzzles in shorter times; and at the very least, you’ll get to have fun while learning.
The brain is an organ like any other in your body and I feel that it would be very silly to assume that it doesn’t need exercise sometimes.
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