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Super Mario and Co: These 3-D video games could protect against dementia

Super Mario and Co: These 3-D video games could protect against dementia


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Possible protection against dementia: 3-D video games increase the gray matter of seniors

A recent study by Canadian researchers showed that playing certain 3-D video games can improve cognitive performance in seniors and increase gray matter in the brain. This may even prevent dementia.

The number of dementia patients continues to rise

Around 47 million people with dementia currently live around the world. According to the German Alzheimer's Association, there are almost 1.6 million in Germany, most of whom have Alzheimer's. But the number continues to rise. Although more and more young people are affected, it is primarily seniors who continue to fall ill. According to a recent study, they might be able to reduce their risk of getting sick by using 3D video games more often.

Video games for Alzheimer's prevention

An international team of researchers recently reported that around a third of dementia cases could be prevented if certain risk factors were eliminated from childhood.

The nine risk factors for dementia identified by the scientists are hearing loss in middle age, lack of education in adolescence, smoking, depression, lack of exercise, social isolation, high blood pressure, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.

There could also be fewer dementias if older people gambled more often. Playing 3D video games can improve cognitive performance in older people and increase gray matter in certain areas of the brain.

Canadian researchers have now found this out.

Positive effects on the brain

Older scientific studies have already shown that some computer gamers can learn much better and that video games are sometimes good for brain development. Apparently seniors can also benefit from it.

"If you're between 55 and 75 years old, you should try playing 3D computer games like Super Mario 64 to ward off mild cognitive impairment and maybe even prevent Alzheimer's," said a statement from the University of Montreal, Canada.

This is the result of a study by researchers from the University of Montreal, the Institut Universitaire de Gériatrie de Montréal (IUGM), the Memorial University in Newfoundland and the Hospital Research Center in Montreal.

The results were recently published in the specialist magazine "PLOS ONE".

Increase in gray matter in the hippocampus

Two studies from 2014 and 2017 showed that the gray matter in the hippocampus increased in young adults in their twenties when they played 3D computer games like "Super Mario 64".

The hippocampus is the region of the brain that is primarily associated with spatial and episodic memory, a key factor in long-term cognitive health.

The gray matter it contains serves as a marker for neurological disorders that can develop over time, including mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's.

Psychology Professor Gregory West of the University of Montreal and his colleagues wanted to see if the results can be reproduced among healthy seniors.

Play five times a week for six months

The research team recruited 33 people aged 55 to 75 who were randomly divided into three separate groups.

Participants in the first group were instructed to play Super Mario 64 a total of 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

The subjects in the second group were to take piano lessons at the same frequency (for the first time in their lives) and the rest of the study participants were given no specific task.

The experiment lasted six months and was carried out in the participants' homes, where the consoles and pianos were built.

Short-term memory improved

The scientists evaluated the effect of the experiment at the beginning and end of the exercise using two different measurements: cognitive performance tests and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

According to the MRI test results, only the participants in the video game cohort showed an increase in the volume of the gray matter in the hippocampus and cerebellum. Your short-term memory has also improved.

Among the subjects in the piano group, an increase in gray matter was found in the cerebellum.

In the comparison group that did not learn anything new, the amount of gray matter decreased in all brain areas tested.

Degradation in the hippocampus is considered to be involved in dementia diseases such as Alzheimer's.

Seniors should play Super Mario

But what mechanism, especially in the hippocampus, triggers an increase in gray matter after playing video games?

"3D video games attack the hippocampus to create a cognitive map or mental representation of the virtual environment that the brain explores," West said.

"Several studies indicate that stimulation of the hippocampus increases both the functional activity and the gray matter in this region."

Conversely, if the brain does not learn new things, the gray matter withers with age.

"The good news is that we can reverse these effects and increase volume by learning something new, and games like Super Mario 64 that activate the hippocampus seem to have some potential in this regard," said West.

Co-author Sylvie Belleville added: "These findings can also be used to drive future research on Alzheimer's as there is a link between the volume of the hippocampus and the risk of developing the disease." (Ad)

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