More seniors than ever are turning to video games for fun, health benefits
Edith Traynor lines up, swings her arm back, and releases another perfect toss for yet another strike. When the game is over, the 94-year-old has rolled a personal-best 220.
But Traynor isn’t lugging heavy bowling bags or hanging out in the local bowling alley – she’s playing the Nintendo Wii®, an interactive gaming system that has gained immense popularity in the senior community.
Traynor, who once competed in leagues but hasn’t bowled in nearly 70 years, said the Wii® sports games give her the opportunity to reconnect to many of the activities she enjoyed in her formative years.
“I try to play as much as I can,” said Traynor, a resident of Sheldon Oaks retirement community in Eugene, Ore. “I’ve always been sports-minded and like watching sports. Playing on the Wii® is just fun to see how you can do, and it’s exercise.”
Traynor is among a growing number of seniors participating in video games. According to the Entertainment Software Association, 26 percent of people over the age of 50 played video games in 2008, compared to just 9 percent in 1999. That number is expected to increase as the popularity and visibility of current video game platforms continue to grow.
With the rise in video game usage among seniors, researchers have conducted studies that found video games provide much more than simply entertainment value.
Video games have been linked to:
A study conducted at the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine showed that the “use of ‘exergames’ (on Wii® platforms) significantly improved mood and mental health-related quality of life in adults with subsyndromal depression”.
Researchers studied 19 people with depression, ranging from 63 to 94 years of age. The participants played an exergame three times per week for 35 minutes. Dilip V. Jeste, the study’s author and director of the Stein Institute said: “The study suggests encouraging results from the use of exergames. More than one-third of the participants had a 50 percent or greater reduction of depressive symptoms. Many had a significant improvement in their mental health-related quality of life”.
Preventing falls: Researchers at The University of Aberdeen, Scotland and the UK’s National Health Service conducted a four-month study that tracked changes in people over the age of 70 when regularly using Wii Fit® and found that it could improve balance as well as help seniors avoid falls. Wii Fit® games feature “balance boards that record movements and gives feedback on performance”. Activities include “yoga poses, push-ups, strength, balance and aerobic exercises”.
Dr. Alison Stewart planned the study and told CNN.com: “There exists a medical device that improves balance, but it is expensive, and I could not get the funding. That’s when I looked up the Wii® and discovered it is very similar to the other equipment, but less expensive. What is great about the Wii® is it also has an entertainment value. The fact that it is enjoyable also makes the compliance rate higher”.
Providing exercise: The American College of Sports Medicine revealed a study that showed, “Nintendo’s Wii® Bowling significantly increased heart rate in older adult participants, as well as boosted mood and helped them feel refreshed and energized”.
“Older adults often have a difficult time starting a fitness routine later in life,” study co-author Lucas Willoughby told the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA). “Active game-playing might help them see that exercise isn’t about just hitting the treadmill. It can be fun and socially enjoyable, too”.
The American College of Sports Medicine also conducted a study with 24 participants ranging from 66 to 78 years of age and found that playing Wii® Bowling for 30 minutes burns 20-176 calories, Wii® Baseball burns 22 to 144 calories, and Wii® Tennis burns 17-72 calories.
Improving mental health: A University of Florida study indicates that video games can “help senior citizens stay mentally alert.” According to lead researcher Patricia Belchior, seniors improved mental sharpness and hand-eye coordination when playing video games. “There are some characteristics of the game that promote visual learning,” she told Foxnews.com.
There are also multiple other studies underway that are testing the impact of video games on slowing mental decline in senior citizens.
Making the right choice
The U.S. video game industry generated $20.2 billion in sales in 2009. With thousands of games and multiple platforms on the market today, finding the right fit can be challenging. The most popular platform among seniors is Nintendo’s Wii® because of its simple and user-friendly controls. The Wii® system has made its way into many retirement communities and senior centers.
Nintendo began targeting seniors following the release of its “Brain Age” game. The video game giant found that the low number of senior video game players was a result of games being too complicated and the lack of games designed specifically for seniors.
Wii® games require basic arm motions that mimic the actual movements of the game. For instance in Wii® bowling, users swing their arms in the same motion as a bowler while holding down a button on the controller. When ready to release the ball, the user releases the button.
Wii® sports was the second best-selling video game of 2009, behind Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 on Microsoft’s Xbox 360. Other popular platforms for video games include Sony’s Playstation, personal computers, and handheld devices from Nintendo and Sony.