By Fabiana Satiro, Educator, Gerontology specialist, Master in Educational Psychology and Partner with 50Mais Ativo.
One of the biggest challenges in the 21st century is the aging of the population, not only in the number of elderly people, but also in the years this age group lives, usually unaccompanied by life quality. We may add years to life, but not necessarily life to years!
One of the main concerns is about Neurodegenerative Disorders, especially dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease. A common complaint in aging, memory problems, according to a research conducted by Conectaí, requested by the pharmaceutical laboratory Sanofi, affect 40% of people over 50 years old, where few of them seek a doctor before it affects their day-to-day lives in a significant way, believing that memory lapses are natural during the aging process.
Staying intellectually active is one of the ways to prevent cognitive impairment, and cognitive stimulation arises as a set of interventions that can improve or rehabilitate cognitive functions and, in cases that already have greater limitations, improve the quality of life of the elderly and their families, contributing to the maintenance of its functionality for as long as possible.
Recent studies (IBGE, 2017) point to the elderly population as the fastest growing in use of internet and mobile phone devices, probably because they increasingly identify the need and usefulness of technology in their lives. However, there are usually difficulties in using these resources, since they’re not elaborated thinking about physical and cognitive restrictions arising from age, such as the difficulty in using touchscreen function, small images, color contrasts, hearing problems, etc.
Access to smartphones and the internet opens up many possibilities for those who are aging, as they approach the younger generations, minimize social isolation, facilitate fast communication with friends and family through social networks, being an option of leisure, entertainment and relaxation, allowing access to information in real time, having applications with mnemonic features and games. The digital inclusion of the elderly allows the use of these resources as an alternative for the performance of cognitive exercises and possible improvement of life quality.
According to Camargo (2018) the elderly public does not recognize the need to use technological resources for labor purposes, since most of them are outside the labor market, but want to learn how to use a mobile and a smart TV, so digital inclusion should occur in a pleasurable way, and games are a way to make it a positive experience.
Not only does playing stimulate cognition, but also the development of games, as shown by Ota and Oda research (2017), in which the group of elderly people who created games had significant improvements compared to the control group in relation to cognition and sociability.
Games and serious games (educational games that aim to develop or exercise some skill, expand concepts, among others) can be a very effective tool for cognitive stimulation and improvement of life quality, besides making rehabilitation more accessible and capable of being disseminated when compared to traditional models.
According to Souza and Trevisan (2014) the reasons that lead the elderly to search for digital games are: fun, distraction, relaxation and to pass the time; they also point out that elderly players prefer card games, puzzles/reasoning and action/adventure; games should have easy-to-learn rules. Even without the goal of brain training, the use of games can be very beneficial and should be encouraged.
Several games can be used by the elderly, from those created specifically for cognitive training to card games and reasoning, however, when searching on Android and Apple stores, it is noted that there is practically nothing created specifically for this audience, which brings problems in usability, which according to Tambascia (2008) is the ease and efficient use of a resource.
When working with cognitive stimulation of the elderly through games for smartphones and tablets the need for adaptation can be noted; some applications are excellent in their goal, but have little time available to accomplish the task, others have a monotonous appearance, which make them less playful; some are infantilized, precisely because they are designed for children; the language is another barrier, we have few applications adapted into Portuguese and some designed specifically for the elderly and for patients with Alzheimer’s disease haven’t been translated.
Specific games for cognitive training improve attention, concentration, reasoning, calculus, problem solving and memory; some previously evaluate the user and elaborate the training according to their capacity, progressively increasing the difficulty; they usually have a daily workout, with sound alert, varied activities and time out to stay in the application. Many present the results by comparing it to other users in the same age group, which can be extremely positive for some users and negative for others, affecting motivation and self-esteem.
Strategy games options, problem solving, language, in addition to the simplest games, also act in cognitive functions indirectly and change the performance of the elderly positively, because it requires decision-making, the elaboration of strategies, semantic memory, verbal fluency, among other functions, keeping the brain active, assisting prevention or delaying the progression of neurodegenerative diseases.
Some studies indicate positive results in the cognition and life quality of the elderly when using digital games, even if they are simple and without specific goals for cognitive training, they are an effective stimulation alternative. More studies are needed to present results regarding the improvement in the elderly’s functionality.
The ludicity brought by the game, the fun, the realization of using a technological resource autonomously, the approximation with the younger generations, in addition to the goals of the games, can help reduce stress, improve brain performance and provide pleasure. It is up to us to look among the numerous options available, seeking to diversify into types of games, to work different cognitive functions.
Fabiana Satiro de Souza is a professor, specialist in Gerontology from Unifesp with a degree from the Brazilian Society of Geriatrics and Gerontology (SBGG), Master in Educational Psychology from PUC-SP, Partner with the company 50Mais Ativo, Coordinator of the Support Group of Perdizes of the Brazilian Alzheimer’s Association (ABRAz-SP), works for about 13 years in the area of cognitive stimulation and advice in home care, assisting with cognitive decline and the difficulties faced by families and caregivers in daily life.
Camargo, M.B.O. 3rd Age Connected: a study on the influence of digital games use in the process of digital inclusion for the elderly. Dissertation (Master) – Paulista State University. Faculty of Architecture, Arts and Communication, Bauru, 2018
Oda, C., Ota, F., Programming games for the development of logical reasoning and prevention of cognitive decline in the elderly, Fapesp Scientific Report – Pipe 1, 2017.
Souza, G.R., Trevisan, D.G. Investigative Study on Seniors, Games and Their Motivations. Instituto de Computação Universidade Federal Fluminense UFF. Rio de Janeiro, 2014.
Tambascia, C. et al.. “Usability, accessibility and intelligibility applied in interfaces for illiterate, elderly and people with disabilities”. In: Proceedings of the VIII Brazilian Symposium on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil: Brazilian Computer Society, 2008.