An overwhelming concern with mental fitness seems obvious from the plethora of "brain games" geared to ‘older’ people. This fascination with keeping our minds and our memories intact is admirable considering that we will probably need our faculties for a lot longer than any previous generation. From sudoku to crosswords, challenging video games to virtual realities, we have many options to choose from. Each offers different challenges for our key brain functions: concentration, language, memory, logic/reasoning, and visual/spatial skills.
Two assumptions underlie much of the research and development in the area of online brain games for older adults: the idea that people over 40 will want to spend time regularly playing entertaining games over and over again, and the idea that good mental health can be promoted by including fun, engaging brain activities in front of the computer into our daily lives. For example, some of the most popular online games geared to graying boomers and seniors include Nintendo’sBrain Age 2and Electronic Art’sPogo.Not to forget the myriad brain teasers, crossword puzzles, memory enhancers and quizzes available online.
Gene Cohen, in his bookThe Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain, notes that the type and frequency of leisure activities you pursue affect your brain fitness. Studies into the risk of dementia or cognitive decline reported in the 2003New England Journal of Medicinefound that the most effective ‘brain fitness’ activities are:
• Dancing • Playing board games • Playing a musical instrument • Doing crossword puzzles • Reading
Brian Christie, a senior scholar of medical sciences at the University of Victoria, doesn't believe that video games in particular have proven themselves to be cognitive enhancers. He was recently quoted in theVancouver Sunas having said that the benefits of leading an active life, through exercise and socializing, achieve dramatically better results. As well, there is little evidence to prove that people who play video games actually transfer any improvements in their abilities to other areas of their lives.
I suppose, when I find the time to play an online video game, I may find it engaging and stimulating. However, for the time being, I am choosing to spend my time reading, exercising and socializing—being physically, intellectually and socially active—while I can. Perhaps, one day, when I can no longer be physically engaged in the ‘real’ world, I may choose differently. For now, I leave the virtual games to my intellectual superiors, while I dive into my next summer book and make plans for a hike.