Video games aren’t just kid stuff any more. It is a multibillion dollar industry that has branched out from entertainment into areas such as educational software. Now researchers are working on ways that video games might be used to boost memory and thinking skills in the elderly – and some people aren’t crazy about that.
According to the federal Administration on Aging, 72.1 million Americans will be over the age of 65 in the year 2030 – more than double the number of seniors in 2000 – making up 19 percent of the population. So why would someone take issue with research efforts aimed at helping older adults age gracefully? Politics.
In case you missed it, Senators McCain and Coburn released a list Aug. 3 ranking their alleged “100 worst stimulus projects.” One of those projects is the video game research being performed by NC State University and Georgia Tech, which is being funded by the National Science Foundation.
Specifically, the senators say the grant is financing “marketing video games to the elderly.” That’s playing games with the facts. The research is actually a two-phase initiative aimed at improving cognitive functioning in older adults. Cognitive functioning refers to memory, problem-solving, critical thinking and other mental skills.
In phase one, researchers will ascertain whether certain qualities that can be found in video games result in improved cognitive functioning in older adults. This work builds on established research.
In phase two, once the researchers have determined which qualities improve mental abilities, they will develop a set of guidelines that can be used to design a new class of video games, board games or other activities for older adults, as well as a prototype video game that follows those guidelines.
In short, they are seeking to identify and develop tools that can help slow the decline in cognitive functioning associated with aging. With the so-called “graying” of the U.S. population, it is hard to see how that’s wasteful. After all, we’ll all be facing the symptoms of aging one of these days.