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These video games can help mature gamers unwind — and increase their gray matter

About 21 percent of gamers in the United States are over the age of 50.

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash
  • More than 164 million Americans play video games on their phones, computers, or gaming consoles.
  • An entire fifth of American gamers are over the age of 50.
  • Results of studies suggest games can improve memory and reduce signs of aging.


According to a 2019 report by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), more than 164 million adults play video games and three-quarters of all American households have at least one gamer inside. While the average gamer is 33 years old, 21 percent of gamers are over 50. Reasons vary from leisurely fun, to spending time with younger relatives, curing boredom, and improving mental dexterity.

While there are no rules to which games more mature players can enjoy, studies have found that certain games are more popular among older players. Some have even been found to improve the health of senior players diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Here are 6 games across numerous platforms (Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC) that are worth adding to your cart.

This four-in-one ticks a lot of the boxes for what more mature players like.

According to the EPA report, Baby Boomer gamers (ages 55 to 64) are really into virtual board games and the classics such as Monopoly and Scrabble. This pack is available for Xbox and PS4 and also contains solitaire and Risk.

3D Mario games have been shown to increase grey matter.

A recent study conducted by the University of Montreal on people between the ages of 55 and 75 found that video games (specifically Super Mario 64) caused a significant increase in gray matter in the hippocampus. The loss of gray matter is associated with diseases such as Alzheimers.

Based on the results, the researchers hypothesized that 3D games could be used to improve memory and prevent the effects of the disease. Super Mario 64 was made for previous generation consoles (Nintendo 64 and Nintendo DS) but Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is similar and available for the Switch.

Few games exercise the brain as throughly as WoW.

A 2012 study by researchers at North Carolina State University found that seniors who played the "cognitively challenging game" World of Warcraft showed an improvement in spatial ability and focus, especially those who scored the lowest in the baseline tests. The multiplayer online role playing game was originally released in 2004 and has since had several expansion packs, Battle for Azeroth being its seventh (released in 2018).

This world-building game requires strategy and imagination.

One of the top-selling games of 2018, Minecraft is great for older players who like puzzles and simulations, and for those who want to spend time with the young gamers in their family.

Tetris 99 offers hours of puzzle play online or solo.

Sixty-five (65) percent of older male gamers prefer playing alone, according to the EPA. The percentage is slightly smaller for female gamers in that age group at around 58 percent. A large portion of gamers over 55 (35 percent of men, 45 percent of women) are also big fans of puzzle games. Tetris has been the king of the solo puzzle genre for decades, so this this one is an easy recommendation. This recent version for the Nintendo Switch comes with an online membership, but there is also an extensive "Marathon mode" for offline play.

Because sometimes you just want to run a farm.

This farming simulation game lets you do everything from raising livestock to mining ore, all while making sure that you have enough time, energy, and money to get things done. It's not the most exciting game in the traditional sense, but for those looking for a calmer gaming experience it comes highly rated by industry critics and online reviewers alike.

Hulu's original movie "Palm Springs" is the comedy we needed this summer

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.

Gear
  • Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
  • As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
  • The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
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Two MIT students just solved Richard Feynman’s famed physics puzzle

Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.

Surprising Science

Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.

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Our ‘little brain’ turns out to be pretty big

The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.

Image source: Sereno, et al
Mind & Brain
  • A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
  • The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
  • This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.

Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

A neural crêpe

A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.

So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.

The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."

Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum

Image source: Sereno, et al.

A complicated map

Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."

That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.

It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."

This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."

Bigger and bigger

The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.

"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."

As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."

Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."

Economists show how welfare programs can turn a "profit"

What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?

A homeless man faces Wall Street

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
  • It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
  • The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
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