Three hours after leaving my very last undergraduate class before graduating with my bachelor’s degree several years ago, I was offered a job out of left field to work as a coordinator of recreation at the local municipal senior center. My undergraduate degree was not in either recreation or in gerontology – it was in new media communications, a mish-mash of subjects such as film production, journalism, gaming, audio production, and digital arts. My city’s senior center was like a community center – it held dances, exercises classes, computer classes, and much more. While my job was the coordination of outdoor activities for seniors, such as hikes, summer kayak trips, and snowshoe trips in the winter, I did various other tasks. Sometimes this consisted of making sure the center’s brand new Nintendo Wii was set up and ready to go in case someone wanted to drop in and play Wii Fit. We advertised it heavily, but only once did I ever remember anyone using it, and it didn’t go well. A lady had heard about it and wanted to try it, but she found it to be difficult to get into. Since my mind was still on what I had just learned during my undergraduate degree, I thought about gaming and older adults and thought that when my generation is of the age to begin spending time at community senior centers and nursing homes, video games will be a big thing and will be a hub of social activity. Now, I am wondering what the future holds for video games used in more serious contexts for older adults.
For this scholarly critique, I wanted to research the use of games in older adults. I came across the article by Robert et. al. (2014) titled “Recommendations for the use of Serious Games in People with Alzheimer’s Disease, Related Disorders and Frailty.” The authors discuss the challenges the health care system faces with Alzheimer’s patients and the importance of developing tools to assess patients’’ disease progression, as well as tools to improve their lives through rehabilitation and stimulation. Robert et. al. (2014) state that an increased interest is occurring in the use of Serious Games (SG) for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders (ADRD). They warn that this concept is “completely uncharted” and the clinical and ethical impacts of this have not been formally addressed. The authors argue that as the portion of digital gamers increases among people above 50 years of age, Serious Games may be beneficial in that they are a “low-barrier, motivating, sustainable, and relatively cheap method to improve, or at least delay the onset of impairments in selected social, sensory-motor, and emotional functions.”
Robert et al. (2014) cite several studies in which evidence supports the use of Serious Games among older adults with ADRD. According to the authors, these studies suggest that:
(1) Physical games (called exergames) can positively affect several health concerns such as balance, gait, and voluntary motor control.
(2) Cognitive games can improve attention, memory and visuo-spatial abilities.
(3) Physical and cognitive games can positively affect social and emotional functions (reduce depressed, increase mood and sociability).
While SG show promise, Robert et. al. cited several problems with their use among the elderly. First, they state that current games on the market aren’t suitable for various reasons. Older adults had felt embarrassed about not being familiar with the tools use for the game or the technology. Some of the SG were found to be too demanding. Some games were found to be too risky to play due to the potential for falling or causing injury, mostly due to the fact that these particular games were designed for entertainment purposes to be used by what the authors called a “typical healthy user” instead of a frail elderly nursing home patient. Because of these limitations, Serious Games created with ADRD patients in mind are being considered with recommendations on their usability among certain populations, but according to Robert et. al., these recommendations are limited as this is such a new and emerging niche genre of game.
As our younger generations who have been playing video games throughout their lives age, I am pretty certain that gaming is going to become a very important field in gerontology in the next few decades. Game producers would be smart to begin seriously looking into this genre and provide opportunities for further research into this lesser known topic. When thinking back about the time I spent working at the senior center, I remember my boss had never wanted the stereotypical game of bingo to be played at the center, but she did want the Wii to be available to use. Maybe the senior center was ahead of the game back then. It is going to be interesting to see what develops in this field.