Thu, 9 Aug, 2018Over60

Why all seniors should play computer games

Why all seniors should play computer games

As a woman who is almost 70 years old, I have not kept up with technology at the rate that I would have liked. I have, however, discovered a couple of games on my laptop or phone that I enjoy playing. One is called Words with Friends and follows the principles of Scrabble. And I love words! 

After watching my mother slowly decline cognitively with Alzheimer’s, I am conscious of maintaining my brain power, and what better way than a fun game?

There is another bonus to playing Words with Friends (WwF), and that is staying in touch (in a superficial sort of way) with people on a daily basis. I find this comforting since retiring from a varied career in education which spanned 44 years. I have a close friend, Teresa, who lives in the country about a two hour drive from where I live in Melbourne. Teresa’s husband of 32 years died suddenly three years ago, only two months after my best friend died of cancer. I spent time with Teresa at her beautiful property, supporting her in her grief and helping conduct the memorial service to celebrate her husband’s life. I introduced Teresa to WwF at that time and we have played almost daily since then. WwF is fairly easy to keep to a moderate use of time, as I must wait for the other to make their moves before I can play again. I also love playing several games with three local friends and several of my relatives in California.

Another computer game I play is Lumosity, a brain training game that addresses such skills as speed, attention, memory, flexibility and problem solving.  Lumosity contains games with only one player versus the electronic game. So, there is no need to wait on another player to repeat the game.   Over time, I found myself self-selecting games that I particularly enjoyed.  I started playing the same two games over and over to try to increase my score.

Lately, while playing Lumosity games, I have been reminded of a familiar compulsive behaviour to keep playing the same game.  So, the conversation to myself goes something like this: 

“OK, you’ve played Train of Thought five times now, so this will be your last game today”.

“Oops! I’ve started another game...can’t quit now, this one will be my last game”.  At the end of this game, I hear my mind saying, “just one more...”!

Why was this compulsive behaviour familiar to me? For most of my life I have battled serious overeating, favouring sweet foods. That began as a young child. This scourge, which I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, was rife with breaking my own promises to myself, mental obsession, and experiencing a compulsion where it seemed I had no choice. The effect, naturally, was weight gain, followed by a rigid regime of dieting... over and over again. I have lost up to 30 kilograms on several occasions (using an array of diets, 12 step programs such as Overeaters Anonymous, hypnotism, numerous counsellors and therapists).

So, when I observe the conversation in my mind, “this is your last game now”, I remember the same struggle with, for example, chocolate biscuits. I would eat 3 chocolate biscuits and then put the packet away in the cupboard, saying to myself, “that’s all you need”. I’d return back to the task at hand, but my mind was obsessed with the biscuits. Such messages drifting from my own brain would be, “go ahead, have a couple more. You deserve it. They are so delicious”. Inevitably, I ate the entire packet. Arrgghh!

Fortunately, I have controlled the weight gain in the last few years with the help of Bariatric surgery.  I had a lap band fitted a few years ago, which limits the amount of food I can eat. I have learned to eat more slowly, take small bites, and chew thoroughly. I’ve been wearing the same size clothes for 3 years, which seems quite miraculous to me!

One of the things these two compulsive behaviours have in common is that I only ever binged on food or Lumosity games when I was alone. It is a secret. Fortunately, I don’t believe there are too many downsides to spending 30-40 minutes a day on playing Lumosity games on my laptop and I am not too worried about it. I am pleased that I am aware of the compulsive behaviours when they creep in and I value my life experience at these times.  So, after playing and replaying Lumosity games for 40 minutes, I take my dog for a walk to the local dog park where she loves socialising with the other dogs. And I make sure I socialise with the other dog owners.

Laurie Darby was a guest on Insight SBS, which explores video gaming and the impact it can have on Australian’s lives. Watch 8.30pm, August 7, on SBS.