Thumyat Noe ’23
Living an intellectual life is believed to slow down cognitive decline that occurs as a result of aging. Maintenance of cognitive function is widely studied in search for an effective intervention that can reduce the rate of cognitive decline. In particular, digital games are of great interest among researchers because of their potential to enhance and maintain cognitive function. However, the effects of digital games on cognitive function are controversial because they are often not robust. Furthermore, cognitive effects of digital games do not easily transfer to other aspects of life. On the other hand, some studies suggest that while digital games may not be effective in reducing the rate of cognitive decline, analog games such as board games may be able to. Nonetheless, the experimental design of these studies are flawed; for instance, researchers could not measure cognitive change over time from playing analog games. The purpose of this longitudinal study is to address the shortcomings of previous studies and examine the association between playing games and change in cognitive function from age 11 to age 70, and from age 70 to 79.
Participants were 1,091 healthy individuals born in 1936. All of them took part in a group-administered intelligence test back in 1947. At that time, cognitive function was assessed using the Moray House Test, which is a broad cognitive ability test that includes word classification, proverbs, spatial items, and arithmetic. Afterwards, cognitive function was assessed over four waves of one-to-one cognitive and health testing between 2004 and 2017. Participants were also asked about their engagement in analog games, various social and physical activities. Early life cognitive function, education, social class, sex, acitivity levels, and health issues were all controlled for during data analysis.
The results suggest that playing analog games may be able to effectively maintain cognitive health in the long run. Playing games was positively associated with cognitive function as well as positive cognitive change between age 11 and age 70. Furthermore, individuals who played more games had higher baseline cognitive function at age 70. Higher frequency of playing analog games was also associated with less decline in general cognitive function from age 70 to age 79. Overall, playing analog games appears to have positive effects on cognitive function. Future studies should consider social components of playing analog games and examine its ability to enhance cognitive ability. The results of this study suggest that analog games may be used in real life as a potential activity for reducing the rate of cognitive decline as one ages.
 D.M. Altschul, et al., Playing Analog Games Is Associated with Reduced Declines in Cognitive Function: A 68-Year Longitudinal Cohort Study. Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences 74, 474-482 (2019) doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbz149
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