For many years, researchers have conducted various studies on the effects games and play can have on the aging brain.
Games specifically designed to enhance certain kinds of thinking, like Brain Age, may or may not always have the intended effect. However, a team of researchers have found that perhaps mainstream games, not expressly designed for brain training of any sort, can in fact improve senior citizens' cognitive ability.
The Los Angeles Times reports on the most recent findings from North Carolina State University's Gains Through Gaming Lab:
To test their theory, the researchers asked 39 adults ages 60 to 77 to play World of Warcraft for roughly two hours a day over a two-week period. They gave the test group a cognitive exam before the two-week period began, and again after the two weeks were up. They also had a control group of adults who did not play the game.
The researchers found that two weeks of playing World of Warcraft didn't have much effect on the cognitive abilities of the people who had scored well on the baseline test, but there was significant improvement in both spatial ability and focus for the participants who scored low on the initial test.
A variety of studies in the past have found that finding new ways of staying engaged and communicative has a benefit for the health and mental function of older adults.
Can playing World of Warcraft make you smarter? [Los Angeles Times]
Individual differences in response to cognitive training [Science Direct, via LA Times]