Recent studies have shown that gamers are better learners and that playing regularly can increase the amount of gray matter in the parts of the brain that control spatial awareness, memory, and strategic thinking. Now new research suggests that playing a video game can even help older people suffering from hearing loss improve their audiomotor skills.
According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, some 48 million Americans (20 percent of the population) report some form of hearing loss. In more severe circumstances, it can have a devastating effect on an individual's social life and mental health.
"Not hearing can lead to social isolation and we know that social situations are a real lifeline to your emotional health," Daniel Polley, an associate professor of Otolaryngology at Harvard Medical School, told CNN.
"If your social world gets cut off that can lead to a broad spectrum of cognitive decline as you age."
Of course, there are hearing aids, which amplify sounds around you. The problem with hearing aids is that they don't help patients distinguish between different noises. This means that it's still very hard to hear your friends and continue a conversation in a busy restaurant, for example, or hear your name being called at a party.
To solve this problem, Polley and colleagues designed a game that helps its players filter different noises (particularly speech) in loud environments. It does this by targeting the brain rather than the ears. The results are promising and have been published in the journal Current Biology.
To complete the game, players have to solve a puzzle by listening out for different tones. These tones help the players trace a hidden puzzle piece on a tablet screen. To make things trickier, the level of background noise increases as they play, so the changing tones become harder and harder to differentiate between.
After eight weeks, those who had played the game for three and a half hours every day were able to correctly identify 25 percent more words in a given sentence than those who had used a placebo game.
Larger studies need to be done to confirm these findings and the researchers also admit it's not a permanent fix. After they'd stopped playing, the test subjects' audiomotor skills returned to pre-experiment levels. This means that if this game was to hit the market, people would have to play it regularly to reap the benefits.