May 2, 2013
The Daily Mail
Fiona Macrae
  • Road Tour brain train game, designed by experts, shown to be beneficial
  • Men and women aged 50-plus played game for ten hours
  • A year later their minds were, on average, three years younger
  • Makers claim it is ‘far more effective’ than playing crossword

Think computer games rot your brain? Think again.

Playing one for just ten hours could actually make your mind three years younger, scientists claim – and the effects last for at least a year.

But before you reach for the nearest console, there is a catch. You only get the benefits by playing the specific game the experts have designed, which trains the brain to remember information while filtering out distractions.

When men and women aged 50-plus played Road Tour for ten hours, tests showed that a year later their minds had not slowed with age. Instead, they had become sharper.

On average, their brains were three years younger overall – but in one test of speed and attention they were almost seven years younger.

The professor of health management who ran the tests attributed the ‘remarkable’ results to the range of skills needed in the relatively simple game.

Professor Fred Wolinsky, who has no financial stake in Road Tour, said: ‘We know that this can stop the decline and actually restore cognitive processing speed to some people. So, if we know that, shouldn’t we be helping people?

‘It’s fairly easy and older folks can go get the game and play it.’

The game, which can be accessed online for a fee, involves remembering two things – a vehicle and a road sign.

At the start, the player is shown either a car or a truck and told to remember it. The vehicle is encircled by a series of symbols which includes one road sign and the player also has to memorise the sign’s position.

Later in the game, they have to identify the vehicle again and the position of the road sign. As the game progresses, the amount of time allowed is cut, the car and truck shapes become more similar and the amount of distracting and irrelevant information increases.

While the task may seem simple it has been designed to hone a range of skills, including processing speed, memory, peripheral vision and attention.

Professor Wolinsky said: ‘These functions are critically important in  everyday life.’ Peripheral vision, for instance, is crucial to safe driving,  but declines with age.

For the professor’s study, almost 700 men and women aged 50-plus were given either Road Tour or a computerised crossword game to play.

Some played under supervision in the lab, others took the games home. Results of a battery of mental exercise tests done at the beginning of the study and a year later showed their worth.

Not only was Road Tour ‘far more effective’ than the crosswords, playing it at home was just as good as playing it in the lab. And those aged 50 to 64 benefited just as much as those 65 and older, the journal PLoS ONE reports.

A mere ten hours of play left the mind three years’ quicker, while 14 hours improved it by four years.

Road Tour, which is also called Double Decision, is available as part of a brain training package. The minimum subscription is one month, priced at around £8, while access for a year costs £5 per month if paid upfront.

Previous studies have also credited the game with a host of benefits, from improving quality of life to easing depression and cutting medical bills.

But although brain training is popular, views about its value are mixed,  with some studies concluding that  while we may get better at the complex  computer exercises with practice,  there is no evidence this helps us in our everyday lives.

Dr Doug Brown, director of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said:  ‘Many of us enjoy puzzling over a game. However, there is currently little  evidence that brain training has any cognitive benefits.

‘Although there is no cure for  dementia, research has consistently shown that eating a balanced diet,  exercising regularly and not smoking can make an important contribution  to reducing your risk of developing dementia.’