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Video games help keep seniors sharp

CONYERS - Ed Bingham grips the Wii video game controller in his hand and poses before his roll as he and other Remington House residents play a game of Wii bowling.

The group of 60- and 70-somethings cheer after Bingham scores a strike in the video bowling game.

"I put a little English in it," Bingham said as he walks back to his seat, "and sometimes I put a little Irish in it, too."

The video game provides residents with laughs and a good time and maybe a way to keep the mind sharp. Recent health studies have shown that video game play can, over time, help reduce the decline of cognitive functions among those 65 years and older.

The largest of these studies is called the ACTIVE, or Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly, study funded by the National Institutes of Health. The study involved 2,802 adults.

Individuals who used computer programs designed for brain training performed better in tests than those in a control group who did not after just 10 hours over a six-week period. Those who did 75-minute "booster sessions" showed signs of maintaining their level of mental alertness, according to the study, which covered a five-year period overall.

Call it the "use it or lose it" theory.

There are video games marketed as mental awareness, or brain training exercises, for the Nintendo DS and Playstation Portable handheld game consoles.

Others have used multi-player game consoles as a way to play in a group setting.

Every Friday at 4 p.m. , Bingham and other Remington House residents gather for some fun and socializing in what staffers describe as an after-hours mixer with the Wii game console as the source of entertainment.

The Wii console uses a wireless controller that allows players to use motion in playing games. Bingham and the other players have to move around like they are in an actual bowling alley, only with virtual bowling balls and pins.

Activities Director Soni Brown said she believes the video game helps. She said having people using their brain, even for playing video games, helps them to stay mentally active.

"Not only is it good for exercise, but we do it for keeping up brain activity, and video games are very stimulating in that aspect," Brown said. "As you get older there's certain brain synapsis that, for lack better words, just go to sleep. We work to wake them up."

Resident Lucy Lockridge showed her competitiveness in the game against Bingham as she jumped up after a strike or by yelling "shoot!" after a nasty 3-8 pin split.

Lockridge said she didn't know anything about medical studies on how seniors can better keep their mental edge. "I do it because it's fun," she said.