As I get older, I love to hear about older people who don’t live according to society’s stereotypes. I hate when people think, “Older people should do this” or “Older people don’t do that!”.
Let’s find out about some older people who do what most people think “old people don’t do”: play video games!
Check out these senior-citizen gamers…
Shirley is an 82-year-old grandmother from Virginia. She loves gaming and has over 266,000 followers on her YouTube channel. She started playing video games in the 90’s but didn’t start her YouTube channel until 2015 after she discovered Skyrim. Her channel has become so popular that she doesn’t have time to do much else. She works on her gaming and videos from morning til night.
Tony is a 64-year-old grandpa who has a very active gaming channel on Twitch. His fame as a senior citizen gamer hasn’t all been smooth sailing, though. An Internet user accused him of being a criminal because he thought he looked like a criminal from a news story, and he was barraged with hate mail, hateful comments, and death threats. Luckily, the real culprit was identified, and he was exonerated online, and things got smoother for him. But we all know how mean people can be to others online. You can hear more about that story here.
3. Hilda Knott
Sadly, Hilda Knott passed away in May 2017 at the age of 97, but she was an avid gamer until she passed. The BBC interviewed her, and you can check out her interview on their website. She was an active video gamer for over 40 years!
Is Gaming Becoming More Popular with Senior Citizens?
When most people think of senior citizens, they tend to think that the older generation is technically illiterate. You probably know a few older people who can’t manage to figure out how to use a computer or a smartphone.
But times, they are a-changing….
According to Pew Research, in 2007 (11 years ago!), 40% of American adults aged 50-64 reported playing video games, and the number of players aged 65 and up was a stunning 23%. Older adults play games more frequently than younger ones, though. Of the gamers who are older than 65, 36% said they play every day (or almost every day), while only 20% of those under 29 played daily.
How Does Gaming Help Seniors?
Gaming seems like just a bit of fun or something to do to pass time, but there are plenty of studies showing that video games provide a plethora of benefits. That’s especially the case with seniors.
Better Multi-tasking, Attention, and Memory
Researchers at US San Francisco found that playing video games improve cognitive functioning in older adults, sometimes even reversing the negative effects of aging. It helps increase multi-tasking skills and creates new synaptic connections in the brain. Attention and memory improved, and the positive results remained even after they had quit playing for 6 months.
Better Emotional Health
It’s no secret that age can bring a decline in mental health. Friends and spouses die, health problems can limit mobility, and as a result loneliness and depression can creep in. More than 6.5 million Americans older than 65 suffer from depression.
Video games work to improve mental health for seniors, though. A North Carolina study found that gaming seniors had less depression, a more positive mood overall, increased social functioning, and better physical health than seniors who didn’t play video games.
Increased Grey Matter in the Brain
A Canadian study took 3 groups of senior citizens and measured the volume of grey matter in their brains. One group played Super Mario 64 for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week for 6 months. The second group learned to play piano using the same schedule, and the third group wasn’t given any tasks.
At the end of the 6 months, only those in the video-game group had an increase in grey-matter density in the hippocampus and cerebellum areas of the brain. They also improved their short-term memory.
Scientists know there is a link between Alzheimer’s Disease and decreased volume in the hippocampus, so video games may provide a way to stave off or delay Alzheimer’s.
Better Social Life
Gaming can be a solitary activity or a social one. Online multiplayer games allow seniors to connect with others and form social connections, lessening loneliness which can be deadly. Online gaming communities are a great way to connect with others, too (although the interactions are not always positive ones!).
Check out the profiles of Tony and Shirley Curry on Twitch and YouTube, and you can see the massive number of people who connect with them. There are online communities for senior gamers to connect with each other, too, like the one at seniorgamers.net.
Better Balance and Gait
We know video games can improve the brain, but what about mobility issues like balance and gait? Well, some video games that improve cognitive abilities have been shown to also improve balance and gait.
Better balance means less falls, which saves lives and money. According to the CDC, a senior is treated in an ER for a fall every 11 seconds in the U.S., and every 19 minutes, a senior dies from a fall. And the cost of falls in the elderly is staggering: in 2014, the cost associated with falls was over $31 billion.
Some video games inspire physical activity, like the ones that use Nintendo’s motion-sensing remote or Xbox’s Kinect sensor. It’s no secret that we should get more exercise. The official recommendation is 30 min./day at least 5 days a week, but 80% of America adults don’t get that much exercise. And of course, more exercise equals better health. However, getting enough physical exercise is often harder for seniors because of various health and social factors.
A 2014 study showed that active video games (“exergaming”) create levels of physical activity that meet the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines for health and fitness. So an active video game is as effective as walking, bowling, or golfing.
A 2012 study took adults with amblyopia (impaired vision) and let them play an action video game for 40 hours in one month. At the end of the study, most subjects showed better vision in one or both eyes. Specifically, they had better visual acuity, better sensitivity to spatial contrasts, and better sensitivity to global motion.
Gaming benefits seniors in lots of ways, so next time your grandpa comes to visit, pull out the game console and ask him if he wants to play!