How Senior Health Is Leveling Up With Video Games

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. Title of article over a pair of hands holding a video game controller

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:illustration of a brain stem making a heart with a plug at the end

  • 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

eyeglasses and magnifying glass on paper filled with letters
Gamers had a 58% increase in perceiving fine contrast!

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. video game controllers next to each other

  • 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

7 Facts You Need to Know About Mental Health and Aging

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it’s clear that, after the few years we’ve had, we need this time to focus on our psychological well being. But here’s the thing: a lot of the talk surrounding mental health lately has been centered on young people, and while that is an extremely important topic, we need to remember that there is no age limit on mental health issues. In fact, older adults can be hit especially hard in this area. So, for this Mental Health Awareness Month, we’d like to remind everyone of that fact, and restart the conversation about mental health and aging with some important facts.

1. Mental Health Issues in Older Adults Are More Common Than Many People Thinkolder man talking with a doctor

We have a rapidly aging population. It’s projected that by 2050, we’ll have leapt from 900 million people over 60 to around 2 billion! And we have to start recognizing that all of these millions of older adults need to have their mental health needs addressed in the same way that we address their physical needs. Why? First of all, mental health is incredibly important: we know that good mental health contributes greatly to an overall feeling of well-being. But on the other hand, untreated mental health disorders in older adults can lead to diminished functioning, substance abuse, poor quality of life, and increased mortality. 

Second of all, mental health issues are very common among older adults – maybe more common than many people think. According to the CDC, around 20% of adults over 55 (or 1 in 5) experience some sort of mental health concern, with other studies putting that number at 1 in 4 adults over 60. The most common issues are depression, cognitive impairment, and anxiety. Depression and dementia are the most common, affecting 5% to 7% of the population over 60. Anxiety follows as a close second, with the World Health Organization (WHO) reporting that it affects 3.8% of older adults. Considering the size of the older population, these numbers are pretty concerning.

2. Mental Health Issues Can Lead to Physical Issues

To pick up on a point from above, mental health and physical health go hand-in-hand, especially among older adults. Physical issues, like reduced mobility or chronic pain can lead to mental distress, and older adults with physical health conditions such as heart disease have higher rates of depression than those who are healthy. But, this is a two-way street: untreated depression in an older person with heart disease can actually lead to worse outcomes. In fact, studies show that treatment programs for depressed elderly patients suffering from cardiovascular disease and other major illnesses usually take longer than normal and are less successful. 

Mental health issues like depression can affect older adults physically in other ways, too. Depression can lead to overeating and obesity or, can even cause a significant loss of appetite and lower energy levels, sometimes resulting in a condition known as geriatric anorexia. Older adults with mental health issues could also end up with insomnia and memory loss, which is bad in itself, but can also lead to more accidents around the house or on the road.

3. Mental Health Issues Can Develop Later in Lifeblack and white picture of a man holding his head

While some older adults with mental health issues have been living with them for their entire lives, some develop these concerns later in life. Mental health can deteriorate after a stroke, or even after a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, cancer, arthritis, or diabetes; some medications can also cause changes in mental health. Not only that, but the changes brought on by getting older, or declining health, can cause some older adults without a history of substance abuse to begin abusing medications, alcohol, or drugs.

4. Depression Is Often Overlooked in Older Adults

Conventional wisdom says that young people tend to experience mental health issues more often than older adults, and that might be true, but it’s also true that older adults seek help less often than young people do. And not only that, but according to the CDC, “Older adults are often misdiagnosed and undertreated. Healthcare providers may mistake an older adult’s symptoms of depression as just a natural reaction to illness or the life changes that may occur as we age, and therefore not see the depression as something to be treated. Older adults themselves often share this belief and do not seek help because they don’t understand that they could feel better with appropriate treatment.”

In fact, according to some studies, primary care physicians fail to diagnose depression 50% of the time, and only half of older adults who discuss specific mental health problems with a physician receive any treatment.

5. Older Adults Have the Highest Rates of Suicide

Think older adults don’t die by suicide at the same rate as younger people? You’re right: older adults actually have the highest rates of suicide of any age group. To be more specific, people aged 85 and over have the highest suicide rate of any age group, and those aged 75 to 84 have the second highest, with men dying by suicide more often than women. Not only that, but older adults’ suicide attempts tend to be more lethal: for people 65 and older, there is one suicide for every four attempts, compared to one suicide for every 20 attempts for all other age groups.

6. There Are Signs to Look Out For

While mental health issues can develop later in life in people who had never been previously diagnosed with them, they generally don’t come out of nowhere. Aging brings with it a lot of changes, both in physical condition and in life circumstances, and these changes can become risk factors for mental health issues. Risk factors can include things like:

  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Dementia-causing illness (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease)
  • Illness or loss of a loved one
  • Long-term illness (e.g., cancer or heart disease)
  • Chronic pain
  • Medication interactions
  • Physical disability or loss of mobility
  • Physical illnesses that can affect emotion, memory, and thought
  • Poor diet or malnutrition

There are also warning signs to look out for that can mean things aren’t quite right, like:

  • Change in sleeping patterns (not enough sleep or oversleeping)
  • High stress levels or constant worrying
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Trouble feeling positive emotions
  • Unusual ideas or behaviors
  • A need or dependence on drugs and alcohol
  • Feeling hopeless or giving up
  • Constant headaches and pain
  • Anger and irritability
  • Engaging in high-risk activities

If you or a loved one are experiencing the above, you should speak to your doctor or a trained mental health professional as soon as possible – and don’t be put off or told that what you’re feeling is a normal part of aging! As we’re about to discuss, we need to be doing more for the mental health of older adults.

man sitting across from another man with his head in his hands and the other one listening
It is important to seek help if you are experiencing mental health issues before it gets worse.

7. We’re Not Doing Enough

While adequate social and emotional support is associated with reduced risk of mental illness, physical illness, and mortality, we’re just not doing enough to keep older adults in tip-top mental shape. Unfortunately, the older people get, the less likely they are to say they receive the social and emotional support they need, according to the CDC. Their studies show that adults aged 65 or older were more likely than adults aged 50–64 to report that they “rarely” or “never” received the social and emotional support they needed (12.2% compared to 8.1%, respectively).

And, again, our health system is dropping the ball on this, with far too many older adults not being adequately diagnosed, cared for, and treated. Consider these shocking statistics:

  • Primary care physicians fail to diagnose depression 50% of the time.
  • Only half of older adults who discuss specific mental health problems with a physician receive any treatment.
  • Researchers estimate that up to 63% of older adults with a mental disorder do not receive the services they need.
  • 75% of older adults who commit suicide have visited a primary care physician within a month of their suicide.

This is an unacceptable state of affairs, especially when studies show that 80% of older adults recover from depression after receiving treatment that includes both psychotherapy and antidepressant medication. Mental health issues are not a normal part of aging, but they are treatable, we just need to do more to raise awareness in older adults and those who care for them. 

So this Mental Health Awareness Month, take the time to check in with yourself and your loved ones, make sure you know the risks and what to look out for, and stay as social and active as possible to keep yourself in a good mental state and connected to what and who you love. And if you or a loved one are struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out to a trusted professional and get the help you need and deserve. Growing older has its challenges, but you have the strength to face them head on, with a little help if needed. 

Community Is The Key To Happiness In The Golden Years

Throughout our lives there may be times when we experience a profound sense of loneliness or isolation. For many people, loneliness will increase as we age. According to AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons), 51% of people over age 75 live alone, and a 2012 study found that 43% of people over the age of 60 report a sense of loneliness due to living alone or being confined to their home. 

It is natural to experience feelings of loss and loneliness after adult children move away, or because friends are in poor health and less able to socialize. Your own health restrictions might also limit your ability to travel far to visit friends and family. Loneliness can become all consuming, impacting your physical and mental health – but it doesn’t have to. There are ways you can build a community for yourself to lessen the feelings of loneliness and isolation.

black and white picture of older man sitting down and looking down.
Loneliness increases chances of developing clinical dementia by over 60%.

Loneliness Affects Physical and Mental Health

There have been many studies drawing connections between senior isolation and physical health issues, including obesity, high blood pressure, mobility issues, and decreased immune system, which limits the body’s ability to fight off infections. One study even reports that the impact of loneliness on mortality is comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. 

The impact on mental health is also severe. Loneliness increases chances of developing clinical dementia by over 60%. In a study of over 1000 seniors with typical brain function, those with infrequent social interactions saw 70% more cognitive decline than their more social counterparts. According to Dr. Bryan James, an epidemiologist at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center, this is because “when you use your body the way it was intended… you age better. We just aren’t meant to be disengaged from one another”. 

How To Combat Isolation

AARP reports that most seniors – as many as 90% – want to continue living in their own homes for the next 5-10 years. Many people resist the option to move into assisted living because they feel they would be giving up their independence. But because community and socialization are incredibly important to health and mental wellness, and contribute to a longer, fuller life, you may want to look into other options, like community living. 

group of older individuals walking/hiking together.
Volunteering gives a sense of accomplishment, purpose, and value.

Community living is very different from assisted living. Assisted living is for seniors who are unable to safely live by themselves. Assisted living is typically community centered, but also has varying levels of medical and staff involvement, including scheduled meal times, medicine distribution, physical support, transportation, and structured activities. Community living tends to be a bit more relaxed, offering hospitality services, as well as structured groups and leisurely activities that are encouraged, but not mandatory.  

There are other ways to combat isolation for folks who still live in their own homes: 

  • Volunteer in your community: This is a great way to get out and give back to the community. Volunteering gives a sense of accomplishment, purpose, and value. Think of a cause you care about, and there’s likely a volunteer opportunity to match. Try local libraries, hospitals, community centers, animal shelters, or schools. 
  • Join a fitness center: Work on your health while meeting people who might share similar interests. Try opting for group classes like zumba, yoga, or water aerobics. 
  • Learn something new: Most colleges and community centers offer a wide variety of adult education classes. Learn a new language, craft, or skill. You’ll meet new people and perhaps find a new passion, too! 
  • Join a club or group: Many communities have clubs for gardening, cooking, walking, or reading. Take this opportunity to find people who share your interests while doing something you love! 

    older woman with gray hair holding a white phone up to her ear.
    Reach out to friends and family on the phone or through the computer.
  • Reach out to family and friends: If the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we have a wealth of technology to keep us connected to our loved ones. Computers, phones, and tablets can all be made more accessible with built-in tools, and they’re a great method for staying connected to family and friends if they live far away. Try connecting through social media, video chats, or email. 

As humans, we rely on connectivity to feed our souls. Community (along with opposable thumbs!) is one of the main differences between us and the chimpanzees with whom we share the majority of our DNA. When isolated, we can experience declines in mental health, cognitive ability, and even physical wellness. Luckily, we can combat these issues through community ties and social engagement. With a greater connection to the community around them, seniors will see improvements in health, cognitive ability, and even longevity. With so many ways to stay connected to loved ones, meet new friends, and contribute to your community, nobody should feel isolated or lonely.

Symptoms of Mental Illness in Seniors

With age comes some onset mental health issues. Depression and mood disorders are widespread amongst older adults. Most of the time it goes undiagnosed and untreated, which only worsens the conditions. Of course the person going through it is often unaware of the mental illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, it is estimated that about 20% of adults 65 and older have one or more mental health conditions. There are some symptoms and risk factors to look out for and recognize when help is needed.

Risk Factors

One of the risk factors that can trigger mental illness, is alcohol abuse.
One of the risk factors that can trigger mental illness, is alcohol abuse.

One of the problems that make it hard to diagnose mental health issues, is the fact that seniors will complain about physical problems than psychiatric ones. There are some risk factors that can trigger mental illnesses.

  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Chronic pain or disease
  • Physical disabilities
  • Grief or the loss of partner
  • Loneliness/Social Isolation
  • Medication interactions
  • Malnutrition or poor diet
  • Change of environment or major changes
  • Dementia-causing illness

Symptoms of Mental Illness

Sometimes we become forgetful as we get older, but once it begins to occur more often, it is a sign something is wrong. The most common mental illnesses a senior will experience is bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, depression,

Social withdrawl is one of the symptoms of a mental illness.
Social withdrawl is one of the symptoms of a mental illness.

and eating disorders. There are some simple symptoms that can be a warning sign to a mental health issue. Signs to look for are:

  • Changes in appetite, and weight
  • Changes in appearance, including maintenance of home.
  • Short-term memory issues, or memory loss.
  • Change in mood, feeling depressed for longer than a week.
  • Stressed or worried feelings.
  • Trouble managing finances, or handling tasks with numbers.
  • Increased aggression, aggressive behavior.
  • Physical issues without explanation such as headaches, constipation, aches, etc.
  • Loss of energy, or sleep problems.
  • Suicidal thoughts, thoughts of helplessness, or worthlessness.
  • Losing interest in things you enjoy
  • Social withdrawal

When a mental illness is discovered in a senior early on, it makes the situation better, more treatable. It is important to talk to your doctor with any of these issues you are experiencing. The more proactive you are, the faster it is to treat and prevent further issues. The worst thing you or anyone can do is brush it off. Do not let something like this slide, we are talking about your health. You are the key to living a healthier life, physically and mentally. So if there is a concern, or you begin to notice changes in your mental state, don’t hesitate to seek help. Talk to a loved one, or your family doctor.