Seniors are 'taking up arms' in the battle against dementia as a study shows video games help to re-engage cognitive skills and improve memory.
Feros Village residents over the age of 80 have been fighting in a galaxy far, far away while psychology and behavioural science researcher, Alex McCord has been studying the impact of gaming on their mental processes.
The University of New England post-graduate student found that residents of the villages in the northern New South Wales towns of Kingscliff and Byron Bay, who regularly played Star Wars: Battlefront, significantly improved their ability to switch tasks and maintain visual attention - benefits that were sustained one month later.
"Twice weekly gaming over three weeks also significantly improved working memory immediately after game play, but the gains regressed a month later," said Ms McCord.
"This suggests that game play should be ongoing to preserve its positive effects and, with that, Feros Care has now introduced gaming to two of its residential villages on a regular basis."
While research into the cognitive benefits of action video gaming has been conducted in both the very young and people aged 70-79, the genre has not been widely studied in the 80+ age group, or among residential care residents.
Ms McCord completed neuropsychological testing of the 24 participants from villages in Byron Bay and Kingscliff before, after and one month following a controlled video game training program.
"Research supports the use of cognitive stimulation in ageing adults to manage the onset of dementia and to maintain neuroplasticity - the brain's ability to change throughout life," said Ms McCord.
"The widely held view is that neural engagement, physical exercise, new learning and cognitive training, when adopted as part of a healthy ageing lifestyle, can help compensate for brain degeneration.
"I was keen to test whether gaming could serve as an enjoyable form of cognitive stimulation, and it certainly did.
"My results suggest that the genre of first-person action games, particularly, has the potential to positively influence cognition and executive function.
"Exercising the brain through enjoyable, challenging activity is important, just as we exercise our bodies.
"Executive function processes govern the ability to operate a wheelchair, plan a schedule and follow through, or switch from one activity to the next, among other things.
"If cognitive exercise can help compensate for the decline in these processes, seniors have another tool to help maintain their quality of life and independence."
Feros Care CEO Jennene Buckley said the positive results of this research led the organisation to swiftly embed gaming in its residential care program.
"At Feros we want our residents to live bold, healthy, connected lives, and gaming is helping them to do that," she said.
"It's one way we can assist residents to stay in control of their ageing and to push the boundaries, while retaining some important physical and mental skills.
"It's also a lot of fun. We have some very agile Jedi knights in our ranks."
Feros Village Wommin Bay's new group activity called 'Grand Gamers' is held weekly, with residents aged 75 to 95 participating regularly.
One-on-one sessions have also been made available at both Wommin Bay and Feros Village Byron Bay and are available on demand.
Ms McCord is passionate about mental health in the ageing population and achieving positive outcomes for older adults and their families.
"It's great to think that one-day youngsters might have to hand over the console when grandma or grandpa comes to visit," she said.
"There would be added benefits of gaming with younger people as it would likely lift spirits through the intergenerational connection.
"For me, video games are just the start. Ultimately, I'd like to expand my research to investigate how other innovative technologies might support differing levels of dementia, as well as improve other cognitive functions."