Scientists in the US have developed a driving-based video game specifically designed to repair multitasking and cognitive-control skills in the elderly. After a few weeks of training, participants who would have previously struggled with the concept of Pong were capable of going toe-to-toe against 20-year-olds — and even besting the whippersnappers' high scores.
Old gamers picture from Shutterstock
NeuroRacer is a strategy-based driving game designed by researchers at the University of California. As the below screenshots attest, NeuroRacer's graphics look like they came straight out of the 8-bit era and we imagine the sound probably matches. However, head researchers Adam Gazzaley and Joaquin A. Anguera aren't looking to wow PlayStation 4 fans — instead, their game is designed to repair age-related declines in older people's multitasking and cognitive-control abilities.
To test their project, the research team enlisted a group of 60–85 years old to play their specially designed driving game which includes multitasking elements. The game requires the player to control a vehicle with a game controller, with the left thumb used for tracking and the right index finger used for responding to randomly-generated road signs. Participants were required to play the game for one hour per day, three times a week over a four-week period.
The results revealed that elderly individuals were capable of achieving performance levels beyond those of untrained 20-year-olds and with gains persisting for six months after training. According to the report, the benefits of the training also extended to untrained cognitive control functions such as sustained attention and working memory.
These findings highlight the robust plasticity of the prefrontal cognitive control system in the ageing brain, and provide the first evidence, to our knowledge, of how a custom-designed videogame can be used to assess cognitive abilities across the lifespan, evaluate underlying neural mechanisms, and serve as a powerful tool for cognitive enhancement.