Seniors multitask in this brain game like they’re 20

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Online brain games can extend in-game “cognitive youth” into old age, research suggests.

“The brain is not a muscle, but like our bodies, if we work out and train it, we can improve our mental performance,” says lead author Mark Steyvers, professor of cognitive sciences at the University of California, Irvine.

“We discovered that people in the upper age ranges who completed specific training tasks were able to beef up their brain’s ability to switch between tasks in the game at a level similar to untrained 20- and 30-year-olds.”

Multitasking is an increasingly valuable skill, researchers say, given today’s daily information onslaught, which can divide attention and particularly tax older adults.

The findings, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, underscore the cognitive cost of multitasking, which dilutes function by splitting focus. Further, the findings also highlight the ways in which people across the lifespan can overcome the brain drain that an increasingly cluttered multimedia environment and the natural aging process bring on.

For the study, Steyvers and his colleagues partnered with Lumosity, an online platform that offers a variety of daily brain training games. They focused on data from “Ebb and Flow”—a task-switching game that challenges the brain’s ability to shift between cognitive processes interpreting shapes and movement.

Of the millions of people who played the game between 2012 and 2017, researchers randomly sampled the performance of about 1,000 users within two categories: those who ranged in age from 21 to 80 and had completed fewer than 60 training sessions; and adults 71 to 80 who had logged at least 1,000 sessions.

The majority of older and highly practiced players could match or exceed the performance of younger users who had not played very much. Any lead seniors had, though, significantly declined after the 21- to 30-year-olds had completed more than 10 practice sessions.

“Medical advances and improved lifestyles are allowing us to live longer,” Steyvers says. “It’s important to factor brain health into that equation. We show that with consistent upkeep, cognitive youth can be retained well into our golden years.”

Additional authors are from the University of Newcastle in Australia.

Source: UC Irvine