Saskatoon

Can playing video games help seniors age better?

A new research project will explore how seniors might benefit from playing video games.

Simon Fraser University project studying what kind of leisure activities older people engage in

A research project at Simon Fraser University is studying whether video games have a social benefit for seniors. This image features Nintendo's best-selling fighting series Super Smash Bros. (Nintendo)

A new research project launched by Simon Fraser University is exploring how seniors might benefit from playing video games.

Andrew Sixsmith is a professor of gerontology and the scientific director of Age Well, a national research network looking at technology and aging. 

"We need to make the devices easier to use for people and we need to make them more accessible to people," he told Saskatoon Morning host Leisha Grebinski.

The Connect Play project will research online games specifically for seniors. It will also aim to create and market some games.

In surveying what kind of leisure activity seniors engage in, Sixsmith was surprised to see a fair amount of gaming, everything from solitaire to World of Warcraft. He also noted examples of some activity projects where Wii sports have been used successfully.

"It's the same sort of benefits that anybody has from playing games. Some people just do it because they like them, they enjoy playing them. Others do it for social reasons," Sixsmith said of video games' benefits. 

He said he's not convinced at this point there is enough evidence to conclude gaming boosts cognitive powers. But he is seeing positive results when it comes to social activity. 

Sixsmith said we shouldn't assume that older people are technophobes or uninterested in new technologies. 

If anything, the economic status of many seniors might prevent them from having access to devices and video games, and he'd like to see more development directed at that age group.

Sixsmith said another project is to set up a Wii bowling league with people in long term care.

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