Digital games as a tool to improve mental health in the elderly

By Bete Marin, Gerontology and Marketing specialist.

According to the World Health Organization’s (UN) World Population Outlook, by 2050, one in six people in the world will be over 65. We are experiencing an unprecedented demographic transition. Some countries are in their early stages and others are in more advanced ones. But everyone will go through this extraordinary transition, in which the chance of surviving at the age of 65 increases by at least 50%. In Latin America the proportion of elderly people is projected to double between 2019 and 2050. (1) In Brazil, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE)(4) confirms the same projection. Today people aged 60 years or older represent 14% of the population. In 2050, with the projection of 232.9 million inhabitants, 28% will be elderly, which means 66.2 million people. (2)

As the world’s population ages, the number of people living with dementia increases, caused largely by Alzheimer’s disease, which is estimated to increase by 3-fold from 50 million to 152 million by 2050. Nearly 10 million people develop dementia each year, six million of them in low and middle-income countries. (3)

The costs of caring for elderly people with dementia are high; in the United States of America (USA), the amount exceeded US$ 818 million in 2015, an increase of 35% compared to 2010. As a forecast of a continuous increase in the number of elderly people, the only way out is to minimize the burden and costs of palliative treatments, using preventive actions. (4)

Aging is an irreversible and inevitable process that affects biological, psychological and social aspects. The biological dimension is expressed by structural changes and minimization of functional capacity, not due to disease. Functional changes arise in a discrete way throughout life and are called senescence, characterized by not compromising relationships and decision-making. Senility, on the other hand, is a set of changes resulting from disease situations, which can accompany an individual throughout the aging process.

The best translation of the process of cerebral senility is the onset of dementia. Dementia is directly linked to cognitive loss, resulting in memory problems, reasoning, language and behavioral changes. The types of dementias can be divided into two groups: reversible and degenerative. The most common dementias are: Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy Body Dementia, Vascular Dementia and Frontotemporal Dementia.

In the area of dementia prevention, some studies point to physical exercises, dietary reeducation, sleep quality and brain stimulation as highly recommended habits. (6)

A study conducted by the International Research Network on Dementia Prevention (IRNDP) highlighted the risk factors that favor dementia: – excessive alcohol consumption, unbalanced diet, smoking, obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, stroke and environmental contamination. The same study shows attitudes that contribute to reducing risks:

– physical activity, moderate coffee consumption, social interaction and intellectual activities that stimulate the brain. (7)

Considering the high cost of treatment and care related to dementia cases in the elderly, added to the forecast of tripling cases of dementia in the world by 2050, with low and middle-income countries concentrating 60% of these cases, it becomes emerging to know the forms of prevention and promotion, such as digital games (video games) and their brain stimuli, so that we can multiply prevention in Brazilian institutions on a large scale.

The use of video games as a way to stimulate the brain has been getting attention. There are studies proving the effects of video games as a tool to help improve the cognition of the elderly, which contributes to the prevention of degenerative diseases, but there is a great variability among video games, and few studies have tried to compare the effects of different types in the elderly population. Little is known about the cognitive processes or brain structures underlying the learning of different genres of video games. (8)

The Active Brain developed by ISGAME is a mobile application of games for health that focuses on the elderly audience. The games integrate health monitoring with training of cognitive, physical and social skills. The Active Brain App brings together games that train cognitive skills such as memory and reasoning to physical skills with relaxation and stretching activities. Social skills are mainly worked on the Family Tree functionality in the App, in which the user rescues his/her story with family members and records important aspects for their health, such as family health history. Currently, the Active Brain App is in development and testing phase of the beta version.

Download the beta version of the app on your mobile or tablet and have fun!

Active Brain’s beta version is currently in the development and testing phase.

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1 United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2019). World Population Ageing 2019: Highlights (ST/ESA/SER.A/430)

2 Brazil – Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) – Population Projection, 2018.

3 Switzerland – United Nations (UN) – World Health Organization (WHO), 2019.

4 Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). Findings from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. Seattle, WA: IHME, 2018.

5 Confort A. The myth of senility. Diagnosing nonspecific major illness in the elderly. Postgrad Med. 1979;65:130-42

6 Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics. Synthesis of Social Indicators An Analysis of the Living Conditions of the Brazilian Population, Rio de Janeiro: IBGE, 2016

7 International Research Network on Dementia Prevention (IRNDP) languages/

8 Ray NR, OConnell MA, Nashiro K, Smith ET, Qin S, Basak C. Evaluating the relationship between white matter integrity, cognition, and varieties of video game learning; vol. 35, no. 5, p., 2017

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