Play hard, work better.

How to prevent employees’ cognitive decline trough serious games.

The World Health Organization has suggested that the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years old will nearly double from 12% to 22% between 2015 and 2050 and the number of people aged 60 years and older will outnumber children younger than 5 years (World Health Organisation, Ageing and health).
Moreover, the increasing age of the European population is becoming a growing and urgent issue: it is estimated that in 2050, 35% of EU population will be over 60 (World Alzheimer Report, 2009). Projections carried out by Eurostat suggest that the ratio of people aged 65 and over relative
to those of working age (15-64 years) is projected to increase from 28.8% to 51.6% between 2015 and 2060 in the EU-28’s populations (Old-age dependency ratio. Electronic, 2015).

Age itself is not a modifiable health factor, but it is vital to target modifiable individual factors that affect ageing workers productivity, and build on them in order to prolong a sustainable working life. Cognitive decline is becoming a widespread problem that requires immediate attention. Preventive strategies can play an important role in reducing progressive decline and delaying or completely preventing the transition of cognitive decline into dementia.
One such strategy is computer-based cognitive training, which has been widely used and tested to maintain and improve the cognitive performance of older people. Typically, cognitive training packages utilise gamification techniques to increase engagement 1.

For example, REAHBILITY is the suite of rehabilitation games, co-designed with neurological patients, that allows patients to carry out their rehabilitation exercises, from either the centre in which they are hospitalized or remotely, autonomously. It is based on many years scientific research with specific studies in stroke, MS and Parkinson’s disease and it already demonstrated its impact in term of patients’ motivation and therapy’s adherence. Its special version specifically dedicated to elderly people to help them realize their potential and promote active ageing, combining physical and mental well-being, social participation and independence in a non-clinical context, shows a positive acceptance of a digital solution among a population of elderly 2.

Serious games based cognitive training demonstrated its efficacy in several studies, for both healthcare and wellbeing, this is why designing assistive technology specifically for older people is a promising solution for allowing an increasingly ageing population to live healthy, productive and independent lifestyles 3.

In the context of the sustAGE project, in collaboration with Universidad Nacional de Educacion a Distancia (UNED), an analysis of all the cognitive aspects of the REHABILITY games was conducted. Thus, it was decided to include one of these games (named ‘Find It’) in the first prototype of the sustAGE platform for cognitive training.

Basically, this game trains the maintenance factor of working memory, with an adaptive system to change the difficulty level according to the performance of the player. The participant must hold in the perceptual module a number of items of increasing complexity with the goal of identifying them on the visual module.
Other games will be developed within the sustAGE project to complete the cognitive training suite.

Playing with cognitive games seems to be a good training for older workers to face complexity, retain information and improve specific cognitive skills.
Thanks to the results that will be collected within the sustAGE project more detailed analysis, for this specific target group, will be conducted.

  1. (1) M. Scase, B. Marandure, J. Hancox, K. Kreiner, S. Hanke, J. Kropf, Development of and adherence to a computer-based gamified environment designed to promote health and wellbeing in older people with mild cognitive impairment, Studies in Health Technology and Informatics 236, (2017) 348-355.
  2. (2) Ascolese, A., Kiat, J., Pannese, L. & Morganti, L. (2017). Gamifying elderly care: Feasibility of a digital gaming solution for active aging. Digit Med 2016; 2:157-62
  3. (3) Musian, D. & Ascolese, A. (2015). Gamified Cognitive Training to Prevent Cognitive Decline. In D. Novák, B. Tulu, & H. Brendryen (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Holistic Perspectives in Gamification for Clinical Practice. Hershey, PA: IGI Global