As discussed in previous posts, gaming continues to transform workplace training. From pilots to surgeons, video games are increasingly being used to train professionals in a wide range of contexts. While some industries rely on games to simulate actual workplace environments, in other cases, games are being adopted as an innovative and engaging way to deliver training modules. To date, however, much of the focus has been on using games to train younger workers who have grown up playing video games and already intuitively know how to interact with games. There is evidence, however, that games might also hold surprising benefits for older workers.

Can Gaming Push Back Retirement?

In a recent post (part of a series of articles on the intergenerational workforce), we explored the aging workforce and reported that by 2022, over 30% of the workforce will be comprised of workers ages 65 to 74. To be clear, an aging workforce brings many assets to any organization, including the wisdom of experience, sound judgment and interpersonal and communication skills that are typically far more advanced than those possessed by younger workers. Yet, it is a widely accepted fact that with age, memory recall and reflexes often go into decline. As more workers remain in the workforce well beyond traditional retirement age, finding ways to keep older workers up to speed will no doubt become a growing challenge. At least some researchers suggest that video games may be the answer.

Evidence that Gaming Can Quell Age-related Cognitive Decline

Ample evidence supports claims that the normal aging process entails some cognitive changes, which in turn impact our processing speed, executive functions, working memory (e.g., ability to process new information in relation to existing information) and episodic memory (e.g., memory of autobiographical details). In other words, while we retain our general knowledge, other capacities tend to go into decline. Fortunately, there’s growing evidence that it is possible to quell this natural decline, at least to some extent.

In one recent clinical study, researchers studied the impact of a series of one-hour long video game training sessions on two groups of healthy older adults (ages 57 to 80) in an approximately ten-week trial. One group received the video game training (using games from a non-action game series, Luminosity) and the other group simply met with the researchers. The groups were more or less aligned in terms of their demographics, vocabulary, cognition, and mental status at the start of the study, but after the study, the group that participated in the training sessions showed improvements in processing speed, attention, and immediate and delayed visual recognition memory. The same study found minor improvements in the trained group’s self-perception and confidence.

Implications for the Workplace

What are the implications for workers? Among other things, improvements in processing speed, attention, and immediate and delayed visual recognition memory are all critical to multitasking. This is important, of course, because in the modern workplace, multitasking is generally unavoidable.

While it may be tempting to start investing in video games for your aging workforce, not everyone agrees that mandatory Tetris breaks are just what the doctor ordered. While the aforementioned study found reportable improvements in certain functions, other studies on cognition and gaming have shown that while younger people may gain cognitive functions that can be transferred to activities outside the gaming environment, the same does not necessarily hold true for older adults.

Whether or not older workers’ processing speeds and memories have anything to gain from playing video games, what current studies on cognitive processing and gaming suggests is that for the young and old alike, video games may represent more than a clever way to deliver education and training modules. Video games may, in fact, also help people of all ages develop the skills needed to assimilate new and complex ideas more quickly and more importantly, to make critical decisions on the job. After all, if gaming supports improved perception, attention, memory and decision-making, the potential benefits are immeasurable. What remains unclear, as suggested above, is whether or not the benefits of gaming impact younger and older workers in the same way and to the same extent.