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Fuss over funding a study overlooks the goal of sharpening seniors’ skills

To mature, we must develop different ways to handle both everyday life and emergencies.

How do we know when we are grown up?  When we view our world realistically and make our best contributions to its welfare, we are well on our way.

Having reached “a certain age,” I am aware of a phenomenon known as “normal age-related memory loss.”

Our minds are always a bit tricky and something of a mystery, but with age they can also be a bit slippery.

A few years ago, I read Martha Weinman Lear’s book, “Where Did I Leave My Glasses.”  Noticing changes in her memory and fearing that she was losing it, she consulted with a neurologist.  She learned ways to cope more effectively, became interested in the field of knowledge and began interviewing experts and reading.

After reading her book, I tried of number of her suggestions and have decided that much of it boils down to paying attention to things that have previously been automatic.

This normal phenomenon is irritating, sometimes funny, and can result in healthful, if unexpected, exercise.  If I park my car at a mall and fail to notice landmarks—a nearby cart-park and what part of a building I’m even with—I may later take a long hike in the parking lot.  I’m not lost.  I just misplaced my car.

All our lives we make small adjustments as we grow.  This doesn’t stop when we retire. 

A friend once observed that we lose some of our marbles as we age, but we compensate by rearranging the rest more elegantly.

With this in the background, I learned of a study being done at North Carolina State University and Georgia Tech.  The study has become the object of a Twitter campaign by some members of the House of Representatives, and the subject of articles by and

The Twitter campaign claims it is a waste of taxpayer money and pays seniors to play war games.  The fact checking articles explain the research and its funding.

Hurrah for fact checkers!  They are a welcome addition to online and print news sources in our toxic political scene, where the goals are to destroy opponents and wield power rather than to find smart solutions for a just society.

To summarize:  The premise is that memory, problem-solving and strategies needed to master some online games may benefit seniors.

The university paid $5,000 for a pilot study that included a pre-test of cognitive skills, playing a “spatial puzzle game” and taking a post-test.  Results were positive for those with low pre-test scores.  Those who needed it improved.

In the pilot study, a small number of subjects had taken pre- and post-tests related to playing an online game, “World of Warcraft,” on their home computers.  Those results meshed with the others.  

No war games are included in the four-year $1.2 million study that the grant financed.

So what was the fuss about, given that the goal is to develop online games to keep seniors’ skills sharp. 

Seniors are a valuable group in the volunteer world.  They provide services worth millions—probably billions—to nonprofit organizations.  Isn’t it economically worthwhile to keep seniors in operating condition?

Nancy Minard - editorial team

Copyright © March 2013 - The Fig Tree