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Gaming for positive ageing

Australians are increasingly turning to video games to improve their health and wellbeing with the majority believing that gaming will improve their thinking skills and fight dementia as they age, according to a new report on the video game industry.

The Digital Australia Report 2016 (DA16), which was launched in Sydney on Tuesday, is the sixth study looking at the state of the video and digital gaming industry in Australia and shows that games-based technology is increasingly used for more than entertainment.

Commissioned by industry peak body Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, DA16 is based on a survey of 1,274 Australian households comprising 3,3,98 individuals including around 1,000 people over the age of 50, which is the fastest growing cohort new to games. See related story here.

When asked about video games for health and positive ageing, 89 per cent of participants said it improved thinking skills, 76 per cent said they thought games were good for mental stimulation while 61 per cent said it could fight dementia.

Jeff Brand

Dr Jeff Brand

Dr Jeff Brand, who a professor at Bond University and lead author of the report, said many people felt that they were getting cognitive benefit from playing games.

“That is not evidence that that actually occurs but it is evidence that they feel that it is worth trying different solutions to ongoing and growing problems with an ageing population,” Dr Brand told Technology Review.

Further on health benefits, the report found that Australians believe gaming can improve coordination and dexterity (79 per cent), emotional wellbeing (75 per cent), balance (71 per cent) and physical fitness (69 per cent).

Elsewhere on positive ageing, participants reported benefits to quality of life from playing video games including encouraging open-mindedness (55 per cent), helping maintain social connections (55 per cent) and optimism (47 per cent) and adding purpose to life (42 per cent). However, fewer people thought video games were good for increasing mobility (37 per cent) or reducing arthritis (29 per cent).

These are some of the areas of concerns particularly for people over the age of 65 for maintaining quality of life and older people are increasingly turning to games because they can see the benefit, said Dr Brand.

“The big shift is that if you would have asked people over the age of 65, or even over 50, 10 years ago about games, they would have laughed. But today, games are seen as legitimate for all sorts of positive personal as well as social benefits.”

positive ageing video2

From DA16 video series

While the most common reasons Australians play video games is to relieve boredom and for fun, it’s a different story for older players, according to the report.

“Players aged 50 and over report that keeping the mind active is their main reason for playing. Playing video games to relieve boredom declines with age, playing to keep the mind active increases,” it said.

Elsewhere, the report highlighted applications of computer games for health and education including a Neuroscience Australia trial, which found a home-based stepping exercise for people with Multiple Sclerosis can improve balance and thinking skills, and Alzheimer’s Australia Vic’s high-tech virtual learning experience to help carers better understand dementia.

“That was a profound development that is not for consumers. That is for carers of patients with dementia and I think that shows how nuanced and layered the application of games can be,” Dr Brand said.

Download a copy of the report here and see the accompanying video series here.

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