A study on healthy aging developed by a Brazilian researcher has shown that the technology can help stabilize senile dementia diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease. The work carried out with older participants through computer games and digital literacy did not involve the use of drugs.
Retired Adriana del Carmen Marin Puga (78), one of the volunteer researchers, says that before the workshops she hardly used a computer, let alone 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 judgment and even dexterity with my hands,” says Puga, who is also learning French and doing physical exercises to improve 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 of age, with or without mild cognitive impairment. They were divided into two groups: one participated in digital literacy sessions and the other in mindfulness meditation.
Elderly participants of meetings for training and maintenance of memory using computers improved their attention and spatial orientation after they received an hour and a half weekly training in digital literacy and digital games through 16 meetings.
They scored an average of 2.6 points higher on a neuropsychological assessment via the Montreal Cognitive Assessment – a cognitive screening test designed to help healthcare professionals detect mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease – taken before and after the workshops than a control group, which used a different mindset technique activations, mindfulness meditation.
The next step, pending the release of funds, should compare the impact of programming workshops and the use of smartphone games through the Cérebro Ativo app developed by ISGAME (International School of Games), a school created with the aim of teaching the elderly to play video games to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
The author of the study, Ana Cláudia Bonilha, a gerontologist and doctor of public health sciences, claims that drug-free interventions to identify and treat the causes of cognitive deficits and loss of independence should be a priority in health systems.
In practice, the results could turn common technological items, such as a cell phone or computer, into tools that can keep older people active, independent and healthy for longer.
“Since it is a simple preventive program, it can be used in any health service,” says the researcher.
The researcher emphasizes that the processes of dementia usually begin long before the age of 60, and that everyone can invest in cognitive stimulation through games as prevention, especially from the age of 40.
In addition to focus and attention on the screen, moving with the keyboard also acts as cognitive training by activating a larger part of the brain, similar to what happens when we play a musical instrument.
The paper says that, contrary to what was thought until recently, computer use stimulates the area of the brain that processes language more than the one for solving mathematical problems – a fact that may explain the results found by Unifesp in the processes of learning and memory consolidation
The thesis “Prevention of cognitive decline through digital literacy and management of virtual games”, defended this year by Bonilha, was created in partnership with the company ISGAME, which also created specific games for the elderly.
According to Fabio Oto, 59, the facility’s executive director, 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, that an elderly person could easily play and confirmed the benefits against Alzheimer’s disease.
Because of this, Ota joined his game development team with a multidisciplinary healthcare team. “We found in tests that the elderly don’t like abstract games, they always wanted to try to understand the why and the meaning of the games,” he says.
The adaptation took into account the reality of the user and proposed games in which they should, for example, complete a purchase from the grocery list, take care of the garden, find a 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 level of difficulty, especially for the elderly, which can be adjusted. “They still get lost in the commands and functions of the phone, [mas] they can use games in their free time to create a playful and pleasant moment”, says the gerontologist.
In the examined group, 93% of the elderly had a mobile phone, and 82.5% of the devices had smartphones with Internet access. 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 changing the size of the printed letters, the predicted age of eye degeneration from 70 years of age and the difficulty in distinguishing colors with variations of blue, green, yellow and red were also taken into account.