I may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Please read my full affiliate disclosure here.

Studies have found that video games can be great for seniors. They can bring cognitive, physical and also emotional benefits. While aging can influence the way seniors interact with video games, it doesn’t diminish their enjoyment and positive impact on their well-being.

Video games can improve manual dexterity, hand-eye coordination, motor skills and reaction time.

According to World Health Organization, there will be more than 1.2 billion people older than 60 years by 2025. That number is almost double from the year 2000. In 1999, 9% of the gaming population was over 50 and in the subsequent years rose to over 20%.

Am I Too Old To Play Video Games?

Never! There is no age limit to video games and if someone tells you that, they’re wrong! Video games are no longer just for kids and many adults enjoy spending their free time on their favorite console or PC.

According to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the average age of an American gamer is 31 years. According to their survey from 2021, 28% of gamers are aged 45+! So don’t let anyone talk you down from enjoying video games.

Some seniors might have misconceptions that video games aren’t appropriate for their age but nothing could be further from the truth. It’s up to the younger generations to teach the elderly that video games can be enjoyed.

Of course the type of games that older adults play might differ from gamers in their 20s and 30s. Most seniors prefer casual games and arcade games.

Do Video Games Improve Cognitive Functions?

In general, older people enjoy video games but unfortunately aging limits how we interact with the world around us, including video games. Due to cognitive decline and reduced motor skills, video games can become challenging but still be appealing.

There is evidence that video games can improve cognitive functions. As we age, we naturally start to have troubles with working memory, reasoning and problem solving due to cognitive decline.

Apart from natural aging process, illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and stroke cam negatively effect our cognitive abilities as well.

Older gentleman and his grandson with Nintendo Switch

Not all games have the same benefits for cognitive abilities but certain video games (like action games) have improved reaction times, spatial attention and processing speed, while training multiple types of memory.

Studies show that, surprisingly, FPS games show more promise in improving perception than simple puzzle games. Spatial abilities and reaction time were better for gamers than non-gamers. Games like PacMan and Donkey Kong resulted in quicker reaction times.

Do Video Games Slow Down Aging?

Scientific evidence shows that special training and therapeutic tehniques can slow down cognitive decline and improve visual short-term memory.

Video games improve manual dexterity, motor skills, hand-eye coordination and reaction times. Games with complex scenarios improve problem solving skills and peripheral processing, while at the same time stimulate imagination and discussion.

Video Games and Scientific Research

Video games have been used as a tool for various scientific research and as a diagnostic tool. For example, Solitaire has been used as a diagnostic tool for Alzheimer’s disease, where a change of consistency at winning the game showed cognitive decline.

Technology is much more accessible now for lower costs. Science is looking into ways to adapt current technology for older people but at the same time develop new technology specifically for preventing and treating the aging process.

Video games can become a preventative tool for cognitive decline.

Do Retirement Homes Use Video Games?

In the recent years, retirement homes have started to provide some sort of video game experience for their residents. However, it’s not currently as widespread, simply for the fact that the generations in retirement homes are not that familiar with video games and technology in general.

It’s harder for older people to learn new technologies but as my generation (Millenial) grows older, there will be more familiarity overall, even through future advancements.

Video games will be something most of us (if not all) are familiar with in one way or another and picking up games in ripe old age won’t feel as foreign.

Elderly couple playing video games

Research In Care Homes & Assisted Living

A study was concluded in two care facilities – an assisted living apartment facility and a residential care home in Saskatoon, Canada. The average age of the care home gamers was 73.5, while residents of the assisted living facility was 79.2. A few participants from the test groups had prior experience with casual games.

The research has found that video games and technology can help residents communicate with each other, the staff, and their own friends and family. By playing video games, many have found that it allowed for closer relationships with younger generations in the family, sharing a common interest.

I’ve already touched on video game benefits (cognitive, physical and emotional) but their extent differs from person to person.

The study found that some residents don’t like video games mainly due to their own health issues, which made the games either very challenging or impossible to play. Some people found that video games weren’t their cup of tea.

Overall, it was found that video games had a higher positive impact than board games. Residents of the care home & assisted living generally enjoyed playing as it helped them get to know each other better and thus form deeper friendships.

Sometimes video games led to frustration if the game was too difficult and some residents reported feeling self-conscious learning to play in front of other people. On the other hand, the test groups also provided support to one another, teaching how to play the games or reminding others of the mechanics.

As a result their achievements raised their self-esteem, which had a positive impact on their mental health.

Black elderly man playing video games

The study pin-pointed a few cons of having video games in retirement homes:

  • games need to be set up by staff or volunteers – their availability might be limited
  • some people may need additional help with playing video games
  • the range of skills among residents is wide – video games must reflect all levels of challenge
  • turn-based games can become boring between turns if it takes too long

Tested Video Games

The video games tested at both facilities were both commercially available games as well as custom-made games. These games were designed to be user friendly to people with impairments that come with age and they included both single player and competetive multiplayer.

They were designed for Microsoft Kinect and the residents also tried various Xbox 360 Kinect games, such as Kinect Sports (mainly bowling), Kinect Adventures (River Rush, Space Pop, Rally Ball).

As the care home already owned Nintendo Wii, it was found that some people had difficulty holding the Wii controller and therefore refrained from playing.

Which Video Games Are Best For Seniors?

There is a wide range of video games that can be enjoyed by seniors. The only limitations are reduced mobility, dexterity and overall cognitive functions.

Generally older people prefer to play video games that are easy to use and don’t need quick reaction time or exact movements. Depending on the individual’s impairments, a simple controller like the Wii remote is easier to learn and operate as it uses more natural motion.

However, some older adults can have problems even with the Wii remote, so the best video games for them are ones that can be played without any controllers (Kinect).

Here are examples of good video games for seniors:

  • point-and-click online games
  • hidden object games
  • tile-matching games (Candy Crush, Bejeweled and similar)
  • puzzle games (Tetris, Mahjong, Picross, Solitaire, Clubhouse Games, Donut County, Pacman …)
  • racing games (Mario Kart)
  • motion-based games (Wii Sports, Kinect sports)
  • relaxing games, roleplaying games (Animal Crossing, Minecraft, Stardew Valley)

A lot of seniors like internet-based games as they don’t need the newest and most powerful technology.

Surprisingly, games like GTA V and Red Dead Redemption might be enjoyable for some older adults! Check out the video below!

Some people might find 3D games and first-person games strange but in time they will get used to it. Providing positive feedback on their gameplay and teaching them how to do things will ease up on any anxiety that may pop up. You can show them that it’s okay to make mistakes.

Which Game Console Is Best For Seniors?

As I mentioned above, it depends on the extent of the senior’s impairments and the familiarity with technology.

Some seniors like to play casual games on PC, their phone or a tablet/iPad. Some seniors might also be able to use console controllers for Xbox, Playstation or Nintendo (Switch, Wii U, Wii Fit).

Those with mobility problems can benefit from using motion-detector devices like the Kinect.,

Video games slow down aging

Future Of Video Games For Seniors

Technology aimed at improving and slowing down the aging process is a problem that should be solved by collaboration among specialized fields such as:

  • computer science
  • gerontology
  • psychology
  • sport medicine

This way we can make sure that video games are safe for seniors and can be adapted to various levels of skill based on cognitive and movement abilities.

Unfortunately, motion-based technology without any use of controllers (Kinect) had dwindled and instead were replaced by handheld controllers, which is not always a good choice for some seniors.

Conclusion

The benefits of video games are scientifically backed (more on reasons video games are good in my article here) and they can positively impact a person’s quality of life.

They can slow down congitive decline as we age and also improve memory, reaction time, spatial abilities, hand-eye coordination, processing speed and problem solving.

While I probably won’t be seen reviving teammates in Battlefield 4125 when I’m a senior, I could see myself still enjoying games like Sims 10. 😀 But who knows what the future of video games will look like!


Sources

  • Entertainment Software Association, “2021 Essential Facts About The Video Game Industry” (link)
  • Gamberini, Luciano, et al., 2008, “Playing for a real bonus: Videogames to empower elderly people.” (link)
  • Gerling, Kathrin M., Regan L. Mandryk, and Conor Linehan, 2015,”Long-term use of motion-based video games in care home settings.” (link)
  • Kaufman, D., Sauve, L., Renaud, L., & Duplaa, E., 2014, “Cognitive benefits of digital games for older adults.” (link)
  • Spence, I., & Feng, J., 2010, “Video games and spatial cognition.” (link)
  • G. Oscar Anderson, AARP Research, 2016, “Video Games: Attitudes and Habits of Adults Age 50-Plus.” (link)


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.