In an era where technology continually reshapes our daily lives, its impact on healthcare and well-being is profound. One striking development in this regard is the utilization of serious games to improve the overall health of older adults. As the global population ages, there is a growing need for innovative interventions to enhance mental agility and quality of life among older adults. Enter serious games – a promising avenue that supports entertainment with science to address the cognitive challenges that often accompany aging.
We provide factual studies to support the integration of digital health into research, clinical practice, and training. This endeavor toward digital health integration aims to enhance accessibility, deliver preventive and comprehensive healthcare, and reduce expenses for elderly patients.
The term “serious games” (SG), also known as applied games, denotes digital games serving serious purposes like training, education, advertising, research and health. Serious games are digital applications designed with a primary purpose beyond mere entertainment. They combine elements of play with educational, informative, or therapeutic objectives. These games are designed to be engaging and enjoyable, making them an attractive option for individuals of all ages, especially older adults (Munoz et al., 2022).
What makes Older Adults A Perfect Match?
Serious game interventions are particularly suited for the older adult population for several reasons:
Motivation & Engagement: Older adults may face challenges maintaining consistent engagement with traditional cognitive training methods. Serious games, with their interactive and visually appealing nature, capture their attention and motivate them to participate regularly (Fleming et al., 2016).
Personalized Experience: Many serious games offer adaptive mechanisms that adjust the game’s difficulty level based on the user’s performance. This personalized approach ensures that older adults are consistently challenged at an appropriate level, promoting cognitive growth (Streicher et al., 2016).
Accessibility: With the proliferation of smartphones, tablets, and computers, serious games have become increasingly accessible to older adults, enabling them to engage in cognitive training from the comfort of their homes(Balki et al., 2022).
Social Connectivity: Serious games can be designed to include social components, fostering connections with peers, family members, or even distant friends. This social interaction contributes to improved mental and emotional well-being, reducing feelings of isolation often experienced by older adults (Balki et al., 2022).
Digital Health Trends Among Older Adults
As per the Center survey of U.S adults conducted in 2021 adoption of key technologies by those in the oldest age group has grown markedly since about a decade ago, and the gap between the oldest and youngest adults has narrowed (Faverio., 2021). Digital health presents a promising avenue to enhance medical outcomes and optimize healthcare efficiency for all individuals, including older adults as well (Mace et al., 2022).
Once these technologies are acquired, their usage is robust, with the majority of owners using their smartphones, wearables, tablets, home assistants/smart speakers, and smart home technology on a daily basis (Nelson et al., 2020).
For example, research by Smith et al (2009) demonstrated that older adults who engaged in a specific memory-training game showed significant improvements in memory recall and functional independence .
Robert et al. (2014) developed recommendations for the use of serious game in the Alzeimers disease and other related disorders population in order to improve the implementation of their use in clinical practice. The following suggestions highlight the authors findings based of recommendations from the 2013 Clinical Trial of Alzheimer’s Disease conference:
- Exergames or Physical games, i.e., games that promote physical fitness, can positively affect several health areas of the players with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and mild Alziehmer’s Disease (AD), such as balance, gait, and voluntary motor control.
- Cognitive games, i.e., games that target cognitive improvement, can improve several cognitive functions, such as attention and visuospatial abilities.
- Physical and cognitive games can have a positive impact on emotional and social functions, for instance, they can enhance mood, increase positive affect, sociability and reduce depression (Robert et al., 2014).
As individuals grow older, it becomes crucial for them to maintain a high level of activity. For those who may have limited mobility or struggle with balance, focusing on grip strength provides a secure means to uphold their health and engage in physical exercise. Squegg, the smart dynamometer and hand trainer, comes with a companion app that is integrated with digital gamification of therapeutic activities to improve patient engagement and compliance. It is designed by therapists to achieve defined clinical outcomes with AI powered, adaptable, serious games. Squegg games also help in the development of cognitive skills.
- Balki, E., Hayes, N., & Holland, C. (2022). Effectiveness of technology interventions in addressing social isolation, connectedness, and loneliness in older adults: A systematic umbrella review (Preprint). JMIR Aging, 5(4). https://doi.org/10.2196/40125.
- Faverio, M. (2022, January 13). Share of those 65 and older who are tech users has grown in the past decade. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2022/01/13/share-of-those-65-and-older-who-are-tech-users-has-grown-in-the-past-decade/
- Fleming, T. M., Bavin, L., Stasiak, K., Hermansson-Webb, E., Merry, S. N., Cheek, C., Lucassen, M., Lau, H. M., Pollmuller, B., & Hetrick, S. (2017). Serious games and gamification for mental health: Current status and promising directions. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 7. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2016.00215.
- Mace, R. A., Mattos, M. K., & Vranceanu, A.-M. (2022). Older adults can use technology: Why healthcare professionals must overcome ageism in digital health. Translational Behavioral Medicine, 12(12). https://doi.org/10.1093/tbm/ibac070.
- Muñoz, J. E., Montoya, M. F., & Boger, J. (2022). From exergames to immersive virtual reality systems: Serious games for supporting older adults. Smart Home Technologies and Services for Geriatric Rehabilitation, 141–204. https://doi.org/10.1016/b978-0-323-85173-2.00011-4
- Kakulla, B. N. (2020, January 1). 2020 tech trends of the 50+. AARP. https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00329.001
- Robert, P. H., Konig, A., Amieva, H., Andrieu, S., Bremond, F., Bullock, R., Ceccaldi, M., Dubois, B., Gauthier, S., Kenigsberg, P.-A., Nave, S., Orgogozo, J. M., Piano, J., Benoit, M., Touchon, J., Vellas, B., Yesavage, J., & Manera, V. (2014). Recommendations for the use of serious games in people with Alzheimer’s Disease, related disorders and frailty. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 6. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnagi.2014.00054.
- Smith, G. E., Housen, P., Yaffe, K., Ruff, R., Kennison, R. F., Mahncke, H. W., & Zelinski, E. M. (2009). A cognitive training program based on principles of brain plasticity: Results from the improvement in memory with plasticity-based adaptive cognitive training (IMPACT) Study. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 57(4), 594–603. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1532-5415.2008.02167.
- Streicher, A., & Smeddinck, J. D. (2016). Personalized and adaptive serious games. Entertainment Computing and Serious Games, 332–377. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-46152-6_14.