Not all videogames are created to have fun. Certain games, labelled “serious games”, are produced not with entertainment as their final goal, but with the intention of providing training, therapy, or learning in different areas.
One of such areas is medicine, and there has been a proliferation of so-called serious games tackling dementia. Accordingly, there have been a number of studies that have looked at the efficacy of these games, with respect to cognitive, physical, and social abilities related to dementia.
Most serious games targeting dementia have been developed with two main goals in mind. On one hand, we have games aiming to delay cognitive decline in healthy adults. On the other hand, we have games that aim at improving the living standards for the users, by helping them maintain their autonomy and their social relationships.
Despite being labelled serious games, some of these games were initially released as a commercial product, and their “seriousness” only came into play at a later moment. Such is the case of the Nintendo brain training game, “Brain Age”.
These games clearly cannot fulfil every need that a person living with dementia might have, but they are nevertheless widely used amongst the elderly, both the healthy ones and the ones experiencing cognitive decline.
Another aspect that should be taken into consideration by developers producing games for dementia in the future, is that while many games already target the cognitive and physical functions of the users, the social and emotional functions are often overlooked.
Based on existing literature, it would seem that dementia games, do indeed have an effect on users’ cognition, although saying whether this effect is long lasting or transferable to daily activities requires more investigation and scientific evidence. One thing that is sure is that brain training games do not have any side effect or counter-indication, so if you feel like trying them out, go on and do it!
McCallum, S., & Boletsis, C. (2013). Dementia Games: a literature review of dementia-related Serious Games. In “International Conference on Serious Games Development and Applications” (pp. 15-27).