A study on healthy aging developed by a Brazilian researcher showed that the technology can help to stabilize senile dementia diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. The work, conducted with elderly participants through computer games and digital literacy, did not include the use of medication.
Retired Adriana del Carmen Marin Puga, 78, one of the research volunteers, says that before the workshops she had barely used a computer, much less games, but when she learned, she liked the results.
“It was a learning experience for me, I had never played before. I was awake, activated my memory, improved my reasoning and even agility with my hands”, says Puga, who is also learning French and doing physical exercises to enhance his health.
The work, controlled and randomized, was carried out at Unifesp (Federal University of São Paulo) for four months with a group of 62 volunteers over 60 years old, with or without mild cognitive impairment. They were divided into two groups: one participated in digital literacy sessions and the other in mindfulness meditation.
The elderly participants in the meetings for training and memory maintenance through the use of the computer improved their attention and spatial orientation after going through an hour and a half weekly of digital literacy and digital games training in 16 meetings.
They averaged 2.6 points higher on the neuropsychological assessment via the Montreal Cognitive Assessment – a cognitive screening test designed to assist healthcare professionals in detecting mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease – performed before and after the workshops than the control group, which used another mind activation technique, mindfulness meditation.
The next step, which is awaiting the release of funding, should compare the impact of programming workshops and the use of games via smartphone through the Cérebro Ativo application developed by ISGAME (International School of Games), a school created with the objective of teaching seniors to play video games to prevent Alzheimer’s.
The author of the research, Ana Cláudia Bonilha, gerontologist and PhD in Public Health Sciences, argues that non-drug intervention measures to identify and treat causes of cognitive deficit and loss of independence should be a priority in health systems.
In practice, the results could make common technological items, such as a cell phone or computer, tools capable of keeping older people active, independent and healthy for longer.
“Because it is a simple prevention program, it can be used in any health service”, says the researcher.
The researcher reinforces that dementia processes usually start long before the age of 60 and that anyone can invest in cognitive stimulation through games as a prevention, especially from the age of 40.
In addition to focus and attention on the screen, keyboard movement also works as cognitive training by activating a larger region of the brain, similar to what happens when we play a musical instrument.
The work says that, unlike what was imagined until recently, the use of computers stimulates the brain region that processes language more than that of solving mathematical problems – a fact that may explain the results found in the processes of learning and memory consolidation by Unifesp
The thesis “Prevention of cognitive decline via digital literacy and management of virtual games”, defended this year by Bonilha, was made in partnership with ISGAME, which also created specific games for the elderly.
According to Fabio Ota, 59, the institution’s CEO, the company’s work began in 2015 and was initially focused on teaching programming to slow memory loss in the elderly.
The main challenge was to create a game that trains memory, concentration, logical thinking and planning, was easy for an elderly person to play and validated the benefits against Alzheimer’s.
For this, Ota joined his game development team with a multidisciplinary health team. “In the tests we found that the elderly people didn’t like abstract games, they always wanted to try to understand the why and the meaning of games”, he says.
The adaptation took into account the reality of users and proposed games in which they would need, for example, to complete shopping from a grocery list, take care of a garden, find the way out of a maze or find mistakes.
In the study, 80% of the volunteers said they had a computer at home, but only 56.6% knew the basics of using the device at the beginning of the study.
According to Bonilha, the use of smartphones will represent an additional degree in the level of difficulty, especially for older people, which can be adjusted. “They still get lost in the commands and functions of the phones, [mas] the games can be used in their free time to create a playful and pleasurable moment”, says the gerontologist.
In the study group, 93% of the elderly had a cell phone, and 82.5% of the devices had smartphones with Internet access. The hotspots are smaller devices and those with fingerprint unlocking.
The games used by the researcher were created based on the concept of inclusive design, focused on usability, accessibility and ergonomics. In addition to the change in the size of the written font, the predicted age of ocular degeneration from 70 years of age and the difficulty in distinguishing colors with variations of blue, green, yellow and red were also considered.