By Margarita Nahapetyan
Playing video games on a regular basis can help reduce depression in older people, claim scientists from the United States.
In particular, scientists at the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, have said that using exergames, video games that combine game play with exercise, significantly improve mood and mental health-related quality of life among senior citizens, as well as their symptoms of subsyndromal depression (SSD).
Subsyndromal depression, or minor depression, is much more common than major depression in seniors, and is associated with substantial suffering, functional disability, and increased use of expensive medical services. Patients with SSD are at a higher risk for developing major depression than people who have no symptoms of depression.
According to Dilip V Jeste, MD, Distinguished Professor of psychiatry and neurosciences at UCSD School of Medicine, and a lead author of the study, "Depression predicts non-adherence to physical activity, and that is a key barrier to most exercise programmes." Dr. Jeste added that older individuals with depression may be at particular risk for decreased enjoyment of exercise and therefore, more likely to prematurely quit programs that involve physical activity.
For a pilot study, Dr. Jeste and fellow colleagues recruited 19 participants with SSD, aged between 63 and 94 years, and asked them to play an exergame on the Nintendo Wii video game system during 35-minute sessions, 3 times a week. After some basic instructions, the older adults needed to select one of the five Nintendo Wii Sports games to play: golf, tennis, bowling, baseball, or boxing.
The Wii games utilize the Wii remote - a wireless device with motion-sensing capabilities - that players wear during the exergames. The participants used their arm and body movements in order to simulate the actions involved in playing the sport they selected, such as swinging the Wii remote like a bowling ball or a tennis racket.
The results revealed that there was a 50 per cent reduction of depressive symptoms in more than 30 per cent of the participants, including a noticeable improvement in mental health-related quality of life and increased cognitive stimulation. The seniors themselves reported high satisfaction after game playing and rated the exergames on various attributes such as enjoyment, mental effort, and physical limitations.
Overall, the new findings show promise that combining exercise with video games could provide a novel treatment for depression among seniors. However, the experts caution that it was just a first study, and therefore, more research is required using larger samples and control groups. Dr. Jeste also stressed out that video games mixed with exercise for seniors are not without risks, they have the potential to cause injury and should be supervised and practiced with appropriate care.
The study will be published in the March issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.