How games are helping people with dementia

The gamification of dating, learning a language, losing weight and quitting smoking has become extremely common, especially with millennials and Generation X. Yet the application of gamification to other generations is often overlooked.

In 2017, the ONS reported that 18 per cent of the population were aged over 65, with over 850,000 people in the UK alone living with dementia. Research from Hester Le Riche has shown that the elderly benefit hugely from stimulating environments, with music, lights and games all contributing to positive engagements from residents living with dementia. As over 90 per cent of residents living with dementia can become passive, finding any means of reducing this passivity and increasing their moments of happiness is essential, and games can play a large role in this. There is a real opportunity, through technological innovation, to let people live a high quality of life for longer and games are the key. 

Designing games

No matter the age of the player, the game must be inclusive to make sure that all players remain stimulated and engaged throughout and experience the same reactions in harmony. In addition to this, it also must motivate players to join in and actively reach out to play.

For those living with dementia, there are specific game characteristics that ensure all players are engaged but also experience happiness while playing. Game designers should check that the concept of a game meets the best conditions of their target group; these are continuously developing as more research and technological innovation develops. Experiences that are suitable for people with early stage dementia include upheaval, challenge, fellowship and humour. On the other hand, experiences with exploration is completely unsuitable for people living with Alzheimer’s (a form of dementia).

Games that are designed for those living with dementia, such as Tovertafel (the game my compay Shift 8 is bringing to the UK), should ensure that a number of characteristics are maintained throughout. The game must project images that naturally inspire movement of touch and trigger a sense of reminiscence to invite participation at every level to ensure that nobody is excluded. It should also react to minimal and slow movements, giving players sufficient time to react, rather than a fast-paced game that could leave them frustrated and disengaged because they can’t participate. A very important factor is making sure that the game only gives positive feedback rather than criticism to make sure that the environment remains a happy one.

As well as creating an interactive experience, imagery and music are also key to stimulating the brain for those with dementia. Recent studies have explicitly revealed the benefits that music brings to people with dementia thanks to the reminiscence it brings and the role it plays in keeping people active and subsequently reducing further deterioration of the brain.

Benefits of gaming

Residents can become very withdrawn and struggle to build the motivation to interact with their surroundings. Playing games with these residents can help slow down cognitive decline. The bright colours, sound effects and reminiscent activities all stimulate the brain and make sure that the cognitive well-being of the residents remains high. Even if they are stimulated at the time they are playing the game, it is much better than sitting passively for the whole day.

The most important part of playing games is the social aspect that it brings, and this is relevant for all age groups. Young children can enjoy playing a game with their elderly grandparents and communicate through the game, rather than through broken conversation; games need no language. There have been more cases of schools partnering with care homes to establish a fun, playful environment that encourages play across all ages.

Many care homes have noticed that residents are much more enthusiastic to participate in general activities when it is simply gamified, consequently removing the barrier of communication and constantly bringing in the element of fun to their lives. The benefits of gamifying activities for those with dementia and other mental conditions cannot be denied and should be encouraged. Game designers, researchers and technological innovators coming together to create games that encourage interaction and boost cognitive and social interaction will only have a positive effect on the aging population and their families and will help address the misbelief that games are only for the young.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. 

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