(CBS News) If Grandma's favorite game is bingo, it may be time for a change. A new study suggests that the popular online role-playing game World of Warcraft may keep aging brains sharp.
For the study, researchers from North Carolina State University's Gains Through Gaming lab tested 39 adults between ages 60 and 77. Twenty of those adults played World or Warcraft for 14 hours over the course of two weeks. The other 19 formed a control group that did not play WoW. The cognitive function of all the participants was tested both before and after the two-week study.The researchers were testing for spatial ability, memory, and how well participants could focus their attention. What did they find? Senior Warcraft gamers showed an overall greater improvement in these areas compared to the control group. What's more, the study showed that the "people who needed it most - those who performed the worst on the initial testing - saw the most improvement," study author Dr. Jason Allaire, an associate professor of psychology at NC State, said in a news release.
"Among participants who scored well on baseline cognitive functioning tests, there was no significant improvement after playing WoW - they were already doing great," study author Dr. Anne McLaughlin, an assistant professor of psychology at NC State, said. "But we saw significant improvement in both spatial ability and focus for participants who scored low on the initial baseline tests."
The study was published online Feb. 17 in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.
Why was World of Warcraft the game of choice?
"We chose World of Warcraft because it has attributes we felt may produce benefits - it is a cognitively challenging game in a socially interactive environment that presents users with novel situations," McLaughlin explained.
Previous studies have questioned both positive and negative health effects of playing video games, from addiction to mental stimulation. This study is the first to assert the benefits of online role-playing games on seniors' mental health.
This isn't the first study to find that playing games can boost seniors' brainpower. A study in last month's Archives of Neurology found seniors who filled out more crossword puzzles and played more challenging games were less likely to develop brain plaques that are indicative of Alzheimer's than their counterparts,