Video games aim to spice up old people’s lives
by Virginie MontetSat Sep 30, 10:59 AM ET
A 93-year-old resident at an old-age home plays tennis against the wall of his bedroom, using a touch-sensitive glove and wearing a virtual helmet.
For Mihai Nadin, a pioneer in the field of computer graphics and a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, this vision could become part of electronic games available to seniors in coming years to help them maintain cognitive, anticipatory and physical skills.
The 68-year-old engineer and philosopher heads a 13-million-dollar long-term research project at the University of Texas aimed at designing games and other therapeutic behavioral environments for the aging baby-boomer generation.
“This is not a marketing opportunity but a social responsibility,” said Nadin during a presentation at the Games for Health Conference here in Baltimore. “Games will entice the aging to remain fit and mentally active, to connect with others.”
His research project is called Seneludens, a title derived from two words: senescence, from the Latin word “old age” and ludens, as in playful human.
It is focused on designing games and other therapeutic behavioral environments with the specific aim of maintaining anticipatory characteristics during the aging process.
For two years, Seneludens has been collecting data based on sensory activity, including eye movement, respiratory and cardiac rhythm as well as body activity and even saliva secretions in hopes of using the information to create a new category of games and play-conducive environments for the aging.
Nadin, for example, dreams of one day offering the elderly afternoons of virtual golf, swimming and boxing.
His dreams are not far-fetched as the market for such games has already been tested with several innovators successfully launching their products.
In Japan, for instance, where 20 percent of the population is over the age of 65, a figure the US is expected to reach in 2020, the virtual game “Brain Age” has been a hit.
The Nintendo game, which focuses on puzzle-like objectives such as memorization, problem-solving and reflexes, was created two years ago and has become widely popular with four million copies sold worldwide.
Its successor “Brain Age Academy” has also taken off with three million copies sold, as have several other similar games.
Some 120 hospitals in Japan also use video games in physical therapy.
Researchers in the United States, meanwhile, are developing games that use intellectual stimulation to help patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Noah Falstein, who co-designed the Indiana Jones games, has become involved in that sector joining with a French firm in developing games designed to exercise the brain.
“It’s a huge market, there is room for all of us,” Falstein said.
Jeffrey Toth, assistant professor of cognitive psychology at the University of North Carolina, has entered the market with “Art Dealer”, a computer game that teaches the player to buy and sell works of art and to recognize originals from fakes.
“Baby boomers are not interested in shooting things,” he said, in explaining the reasoning behind his game.
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