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Play Video Games and Exercise Your Brian When You Are Getting Older

Aging brings negative effects on human’s brain. Researchers from University of California, San Francisco said that they had discovered a method to reverse such negative effects and this method was realized through a video game that was designed for improving cognitive control abilities. Their research has been published on Nature this week.

In the video game, NeuroRacer, which is developed by the researchers, participants need to race in a serpentine lane while in the same time there will appear different road signs. The game requires the participants to just focus on a specific road sign and once it shows up, the participants need to press a button immediately and they don’t need to do anything for other signs. Such fast switch between driving behavior and road sign reaction behavior is called multitasking, which can lead to conflicts in human brains and impact participants’ performances. Researchers also found that along with the aging of adults, the conflicts generated by the fast switch process can became more significant.

Some of the NeuroRacer game screens. Video produced by Akili Interaction Lab.

In the meanwhile, the training also improve the participants’ performances in two important cognition areas: working memory (a prefrontal cotex function and a functional system that can keep the memory in one minute when information is presented, provide temporary information storage during cognition and manipulate and process complicated cognition functions) and sustained attention, and even after 6 months since the training, the aged people still maintain familiar with the gaming skills.

Some seniors between 60 and 85 participated in the research. They received 12 hours training totally in the first month and finally they all got improved in the performance, and some of them were even better than some young people (about 20 year old) who were playing the game for the first time. *

*Image source: popsci.com

M.D., Associate Professor. Adam Gazzaley claimed: “This research successfully demonstrated the plasticity of senior brains.” For the last decade, there was many evidences that can prove the learning ability of brains of aged people. For example, a study on London taxi drivers found that even the street layout of London City is famous for its complexity, when taxi drivers have learned how to drive with ease, their brain structures will have some changes. However, Gazzaley pointed out that multiple areas in human brains will lose their functions gradually, but exceptions exist. Given this, Gazzaley said, even a few brain training can reverse the recession due to aging and this conclusion is very encouraging.

Scientist have measured the activity of θ rhythm (low frequency wave) in prefrontal cortical areas of brain and measured the coherence of  θ rhythm in the front and back of brain. The two indexes are certain neurodevelopment markers that are used to measure cognitive control. As old “drivers” become better and better at multitasking challenges in NeuroRacer, scientists found that their brains adjusted this key neural network and made it behave like young people.

 If the research is reliable, it will be applied widely. Because other brain diseases such as ADHD, depressive disorder, and dementia are all related with lowered cognitive control. Gazzaley said: “In the following research, we will need to implement functional magnetic resonance imaging and transcranial electrical stimulation technology so that we can better understand how this neural network is correlated with changes in cognitive control.”

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