3D video games hailed as potentially helpful for dementia-affected people

Playing three dimensional video games may protect against the dulling of memory that comes with age, a study has found.

Scientists believe 3D gaming could provide a novel treatment for people affected by age-related memory loss or dementia.

Student volunteers playing the game Super Mario 3D World boosted their performance in memory tests by around 12% - roughly the amount it normally decreases by between the ages of 45 and 70.

But playing a less involving two dimensional game, Angry Birds did not have the same beneficial effect.

3D games are thought to stimulate the hippocampus, a brain region vital to memory that shrinks with age and is damaged by Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.

US lead scientist Dr Dane Clemenson, from the University of California at Irvine, said: "The 3D games have a few things the 2D ones do not. They've got a lot more spatial information in there to explore. Second, they're much more complex, with a lot more information to learn. Either way, we know this kind of learning and memory not only stimulates but requires the hippocampus."

Previous research has shown that video games can improve eye-to-hand co-ordination and reaction times.

The new study, reported in The Journal Of Neuroscience, involved playing either the 3D or 2D game for 30 minutes every day for two weeks.

Before and after the study period, the non-gamer college students took memory tests specifically designed to engage the hippocampus.

The volunteers were shown pictures of a number of everyday objects. Then they had to categorise images of the same objects, new ones and others that differed only slightly from the originals.

Recognition of the slightly altered images requires use of the hippocampus and according to previous research the ability to do this declines with age, said the scientists. It is the reason why some older people find it harder to remember new names or forget where they put their keys.

Co-author Dr Craig Stark, also from the University of California at Irvine, said: "Can we use this video game approach to help improve hippocampus functioning? It's often suggested that an active, engaged lifestyle can be a real factor in stemming cognitive ageing.

"While we can't all travel the world on vacation, we can do many other things to keep us cognitively engaged and active. Video games may be a nice, viable route."