It sounds crazy, video games? For seniors? When you think of video games you probably picture kids avoiding homework and chores. Not seniors using video games to improve their health. But the video game industry has evolved since the 70’s. It’s now a hobby that people of all ages and abilities can enjoy.
A study held by Big Fish games in 2015 found that more than a quarter of gamers are over 50. Due to the rise of older gaming enthusiasts, gaming companies have been adapting to the needs of the aging population by creating games and consoles that are accessible and easy to play. The age of gamers steadily rising is no surprise since video games have been a part of their lives since they were children, it is a nostalgic and exciting pastime that helps to improve your mental and physical health and can add some excitement to your social life.
Improving Your Mental Health
Believe it or not video games do affect your mental health. Video games can increase your ‘flow state’ which is when your mind becomes so focused on one task that you stop thinking about everything else around you. A flow state is almost a meditative state that can help you relieve stress and anxiety. Video games also affect your dopamine levels, the hormone that causes feelings of satisfaction, euphoria, and motivation. When this hormone is released, it can help regulate your heart rate, improve your memory, and even improve kidney function. Together achieving a flow state and raising your dopamine levels can help fight off depression, PTSD and Alzheimer’s. It has been found that:
- Gaming can reduce the risk of depression by 57%.
- Just 10 minutes of video gaming can cut the number of flashbacks in half for seniors suffering with PTSD
- Playing video games daily can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s by 50%
- 30 Minutes of gaming a day significantly reduces the risk of dementia
Think of gaming as a workout for your brain. While doing a puzzle or fighting a boss you work out different parts of your brain over and over again (and can even increase your brain’s gray matter!). It may take you a few tries but you will eventually beat it, not because the level you’re on suddenly got easier but because the mental skills you’re using have leveled up after a little bit of practice.
Reducing Your Stress
Enjoying the game you’re playing is a stress reliever in itself. The last time you sat down and did something you enjoyed were you stressed out or anxious? No, you were enjoying yourself and that alone can begin to help you reduce the stress in your life.
Gaming has quickly become a common stress reliever with 89% of gamers saying that they reach for their controllers when life gets too overwhelming. Staying stress free is more important than ever for seniors. Stress in seniors often manifests itself with physical symptoms and worsening health conditions like headaches, loss of appetite, stomach pain, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, so it is important to keep your stress levels in check.
Improving Your Physical Health.
While video games are helping with your mental health they also help ease some physical strains on your body. Newer games have started introducing gameplay that requires players to get up and move around to beat levels. That work can help burn calories and help you breathe better by increasing your oxygen intake. This gets your blood flowing and allows you to get a light workout in without even realizing it.
Improving Your Eyesight
The most surprising benefit we have found is that your eyesight can be improved by gaming. I know, you just had flashbacks of your mother yelling “if you don’t stop staring at that screen you’ll need glasses” but it’s true. Data shows that video game players had a 58% increase in perceiving fine contrast, which is what allows you to see slight differences in shades of gray and allows you to identify objects in cluttered spaces. The increase in sight lasted for months even after players stopped gaming.
Connecting With Loved Ones
Video games don’t just improve your health, they also improve your personal connections and relationships. When things like a worldwide pandemic. Distance, and busy lives make it difficult to physically get together. Often you can just hop on a game and instantly connect with your friends, siblings, or grandkids and take off on an adventure. Many games have multiplayer worlds where communication is key. Sometimes it’s letting your partner know there’s an enemy behind them, sometimes it’s comparing notes to solve a puzzle, and other times it’s just making jokes and catching up. Over time, like any skill, your communication gets stronger and there’s nothing better for a friendship than healthy communication.
In addition to bringing friends together, video games can bring generations together too. Years ago, video games were a cause of arguments between adults and kids. This placed an (almost) permanent rift between generations when it came to opinions on gaming systems. You may think your grandkids are lazy and only care about a game. And they may think you’re no fun and too old to understand a video game. It’s time to prove you both wrong.
Connecting over a video game lets you get a look into each other’s lives. Just like with your friends, you will be talking while you play. Which can lead to both of you sharing things you normally wouldn’t. You might find out how they’ve got school stress or maybe they’re struggling with a friend. Maybe you’ll find out they aren’t lazy; they’ve actually got a really busy schedule and video games help them unwind.
Not to mention, you get a chance to show them that just because you’re older doesn’t mean you’re boring. You like fun just as much as they do but they don’t always get to see that side of you. Letting them see you having fun and playing with them can help them see you in a new light and can help you both gain respect and trust one another. Imagine playing a competitive game with your grandkid and beating them (ha, who’s old now punk?).
Video games let you connect with the people who matter most. That social connection is a staple in your mental health and improves your quality of life all around.
The Top 4 Gaming Systems For Seniors
Now that you know how healthy gaming can be, let’s look at what system might be best for you. While most systems offer the same basic services for gaming and streaming, there are some differences and benefits for each one. When deciding which system is right for you, you’ll want to consider things like accessibility, controls, and game preference. Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft offer some of the best consoles for seniors. All 3 companies keep seniors or older adults with impairments in mind.
- PlayStation – The PlayStation is a great beginner’s system. Its user interface is easy to use and understand. It’s best known for its lightning-fast download speeds, so you don’t have to wait long for games to download.
- Wii – The Nintendo Wii is known for getting its gamers off the couch and exercising. Games for the Wii are designed to have you so entertained that you don’t even notice you just completed a light workout.
- Xbox – The Xbox system is known for running games smoother with better graphics than other systems. Additionally, this system offers its players backwards compatibility which means you can still play the games from your old system instead of having to rebuy the games every time a new console comes out if you decide to upgrade.
- Nintendo switch – The Nintendo switch is a handheld console with the option of connecting to the TV. This system has a healthy balance of games you can play from your couch and get up and move around games.
10 Games For Seniors
We’ve talked about the health benefits of gaming, and we’ve talked about the systems you can choose from so now let’s look at the 10 best games for seniors. In no particular order we have:
- Wii Sports [Wii] – This game is a perfect example of how the system helps you get in a workout. You use the dual controllers to bowl, box, golf and play tennis. Don’t worry, the controllers come with wrist straps to keep you from accidentally throwing your controller at the TV when you swing your digital racket.
- Mortal Kombat [Xbox/PlayStation/Switch] – This fighting game lets you and a friend each choose a character and fight each other. Every hit and kick has a different combination of buttons to complete it. Remembering each of these combinations will help strengthen your memory and your hand dexterity as well.
- The Sims [Xbox/PlayStation] – You create a character or family to control and build their lives in any way you want. You can build and decorate their homes, pick their jobs, and manage their relationships. This is a great game to unwind with and maybe even relive some of your youth by making characters based off of your friends and life.
- Overcooked: All You Can Eat [Switch] – In this game you and up to 4 friends run a restaurant and have to fill customer’s orders within a certain time limit to keep them happy. This is one of those timed games that will help you work on your reaction time and communication skills. You’ll have to designate jobs for each person and work together to time the food preparation perfectly to get each order out on time.
- Family Game Night [Wii] – You and a few friends can play classic board games like Clue, Twister, Life, and Mouse Trap without having to waste time setting up a physical board game. This game will get the family laughing and playing together for hours.
- Ratchet and Clank [PlayStation] – You play as Ratchet traveling through space to different worlds fighting enemies and collecting treasure. This game can help your hand eye coordination and reaction time with puzzles and weapons that require you to aim perfectly or make it through areas with a time limit.
- Cuphead [Xbox] -This 2D platform game has the look and feel of a 1930’s cartoon. You play as Cuphead dodging obstacles to gain coins. The levels are designed so that the only directions you have to move are left and right while you attack your enemies trying to get from one side of the platform to the other. Working through these obstacles
- Animal Crossing: New Horizons [Switch] – If bad guys and puzzles aren’t your thing this is the game for you. In this game you create your character and move to a deserted island where you help animal friends build homes and decorate the island. You can spend time fishing, farming, or catching bugs to display in your museum. There is no right or wrong way to play this game, making it a wonderful way to relax.
- Red Dead Redemption [Xbox/PlayStation] – Did you ever pretend to be a cowboy when you were little? This is the game for you. You play as a cowboy in the wild west trying to survive. You can follow the main story line or do your own thing exploring the land on horseback and having shootouts with other outlaws.
- Mario Kart [Switch] – You might remember this one from back in the day. There is no better feeling than racing your friends and trying to make them crash so you can steal the lead. This game is a simple racing game that will have you putting your brain to work when you have to quickly dodge obstacles while trying to hit your friends with obstacles of their own.
It’s Game Time
You already do so much to fight the effects of aging, why not make it fun? Now that you know all of the ways that gaming can help you it’s time to grab your controller and jump in. Whether you’re battling demons, fighting wars, solving puzzles or just plain farming you’ll be improving your life level by level.
Co-written by Brianna Hartnett