Imagining a future of playful Seniors

[This is a guest post by NY-based journalist and entrepreneur Stephanie Lowe]

Games critically engage and creatively stimulate a child’s brain, enhancing memory, reflex and cognition.[1] But what about playful games for the elderly?

The history of games and societal engagement through play predate centuries.[2] Games touch upon an individual’s fundamental human nature providing a formal space of expression where rules of engagement allow players to connect, explore and imagine the possibilities within a safe context. As a result, a deeper connection is created through physical activity. Cataloguing the history of games throughout time may also act as a living archive of human social behavior and the ways in which we may engage with one another better across generations.

A mere decade ago, the vast number of games developed were targeted at children (ages 3-18).[3] However more recently, statistics of user engagement amongst video games indicate that a gradual shift has taken place. Game are being played by an increasingly older, more sophisticated user, where the average gamer currently hovers 34 years.[4]

Today over 67% of U.S. households play games with 49% of their users between the ages 18-49 where 26% of gamers are over the age of 50.[5] A Stanford University research study shows how games not only have the capacity to improve brain functionality and neurological pattern processing (such as greater agility in speech patterns and motor reflexes), but they can also improve quality of life---a key metric for the aging population battling the onset of growing illness, limited physical agility and isolation. With limited government infrastructure to handle the rapidly aging baby boomer population, questions surrounding retirement, pension plans and over stretched social security benefits, may find some solace (and some solutions) in games that stimulate physical activity, mental health, and a prolonged independence. Innovation around game development for the elderly, fun tools, programs and puzzles that allow aging communities to better interact with each other, communicate in playful ways and stimulate the brain may also positively combat feelings of depression and loneliness that are commonly shared amongst seniors.[6]

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population age 65 and older is expected to more than effectively double between 2012 and 2060---this means the aging population will grow from 43 million to 92 million over the next 50 years. Over the course of a single generation, the elderly population will represent just over one in five residents in the U.S. alone. So the questions remains: how do we cultivate a multi-generational movement through the love of play to device much needed innovative solutions and strategies when met by the inevitability of an aging community?

One possible solution may be found in Lumosity[7] or creating games and activities for a niched senior community. In a previous research project, Lumos Labs[8] and the Human Cognition Project[9] selected 1204 students from 40 different schools to participate in a semester long study of a game and its impact on classrooms. A select group of students used and tested the game over time and results were later compared to a control group used to test a variety of cognitive assessments. Results showed improvements in game participants in cognition, memory, communication and brain processing speeds and core cognitive functions.[10] Lumosity provides a program for schools K-12 through the Lumosity Education Access Program (LEAP), but a program has yet been developed that creates games specifically for senior citizens, that may be implemented in senior homes and assisted living facilities ages 65+ for instance. The possibilities for senior creative play are boundless and most of all, it’s a guaranteed good time.

[1] Peter Dizikes, Learning science through gaming, MIT News Office, April 2011

[2] David Signey Parlett, The Oxford history of board games, Oxford University Press, 1999

[3] Parlett, The Oxford history of board games, 1999

[4] Paul Tassi, “NPD Says Core Gamers are Numerous and Older Than You Think,” Forbes (http://www.forbes.com/fdc/welcome_mjx.shtml), 03/06/2013

[5] Statistics taken from the Entertainment Software Rating Board

[6] “Aging, Social Isolation of Seniors Discussed with Danish Leaders,” PAMF Newsroom, 22 October 2012

[7] Lumosity is a training program designed by neuroscientists to improve core cognitive functions

[8] See Crunchbase profile: http://www.crunchbase.com/company/lumosity

[9] The Human Cognition Project is a groundbreaking research effort to bring together a network of scientists from 25 top neuroscience programs in the world including Stanford, Berkeley and Harvard

[10] Daniel A. Sternberg, Joseph L. Hardy, Michael Scanlon, “Cognitive performance peaks at different times of day depending on the Task,” Lumos Labs, Inc. SF Poster


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