Photo/Illutration An elderly individual plays a car racing video game on Dec. 21 in Sendai’s Aoba Ward. (Natsuki Midorikawa)

An activity long considered the domain of young people can improve the cognitive functions of elderly individuals and their ability to multitask, a study showed.

The project, conducted by such entities as Tohoku Fukushi University, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone East Corp. and the Sendai e-Sports Association, was intended to determine if video games can help to prevent cognitive impairment, muscular weakness and other frailties among senior citizens.

The study was conducted between April and September last year on 21 people in their 60s or older who regularly visited the Dainohara Rojin Fukushi Center for elderly people’s well-being in Sendai’s Aoba Ward.

They were asked to periodically play video games, including car racing and fighting titles.

A cognitive test, questionnaire and physical ability measurements were then carried out.

Analyzing the data from 17 of them, the group found no significant changes in physical functions.

But the players became better able to pay attention to and simultaneously perform multiple tasks.

“That is likely due to the fact that they took into account various factors while they played the games,” said a representative of Tohoku Fukushi University.

Answers to the questionnaire about daily life were received from 16 individuals.

Of them, seven reported improvements, three said there were no changes, and six said their daily lives had worsened.

Four with improved conditions had previously been in the “frailty category,” which requires special precautions to prevent nursing care from becoming indispensable. They moved up one rank to the “pre-frailty category.”

Participants gave positive comments about the experiment. They said video gaming was “a kind of brainwork” and they “enjoyed improving their scores and times.”

Many said they “want to practice more to compete against others.”

“We will be taking advantage of video games as a new preventive tool for research to increase health,” said an official from Tohoku Fukushi University.

The elderly residents showed off their skills in a car racing game during a presentation session about the study held at the welfare center.

They cranked the steering wheel and hit the gas pedal to speed by their opponents.

“I thought video games are intended only for young people, but I get a thrill out of playing them,” said a 72-year-old female contestant. “Exercising the brain and body is great. They helped me make new friends, too.”