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Want More Brain Power? Bingo!

Study finds game increases mental agility

THURSDAY, July 11, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Although a bingo hall might not be the first place you'd think to go to boost your brain power, the popular game may actually increase your cognitive ability.

That's the conclusion of a study being presented today at a British Psychological Society meeting in Winchester in the United Kingdom.

Researchers from the University of Southampton in Hampshire found bingo players performed better on cognitive tests than non-bingo players.

The researchers theorize that bingo players do so well because they are very practiced at searching for numbers with a lot of distractions around them.

"The type of visual search carried out by bingo players is not a simple one," says one of the study's authors, Julie Winstone, a doctoral student in the university's department of psychology. "Searching for a target amongst other similar distracters requires effortful processing."

Winstone and her colleagues recruited 112 people for the study and split them into four groups: young bingo players (aged 18 to 40); older bingo players (aged 60 to 82); young non-bingo players; and older non-bingo players.

The group was largely female, which Winstone says is to be expected because bingo is played predominantly by women. The bingo players in the study, she adds, had lower levels of education and socioeconomic status than the non-bingo group.

The researchers gave all four groups a battery of cognitive tests to measure their "fluid abilities," Winstone says. Fluid abilities are tasks that require speed, accuracy, decision-making and quick responding. Marking off numbers on a bingo card as they are called is a good example of a fluid ability.

Bingo players, both young and old, were faster and more accurate on these tests than non-bingo players. Older bingo players were also more accurate on the tests than young bingo players, though they were not as fast.

Steven Ferris, executive director of the Silberstein Institute for Aging and Dementia at New York University School of Medicine, says that while the study isn't definitive, this research appears to be consistent with what other studies have found -- that mental exercises can improve cognitive function.

"Any time you learn or improve in something, you're causing a structural change in the brain," Ferris says. "Mental activity leads to denser connections between neurons, and may lead to the development of new neurons."

He says it's a lot like physical exercise. If you don't use your muscles, they deteriorate. If you use them lightly, they don?t get stronger. However, if you push your muscles through exercise, they get larger and stronger.

Ferris says any activity that is mentally challenging may help increase your brain power. He recommends learning new information and doing puzzles or crosswords to challenge your mind.

What To Do

For more information on how games can keep your brain in shape and possibly help prevent Alzheimer's disease, read this article from Discovery Health. If you'd like a head start on keeping your mind sharp, visit the Puzzle Playground.

SOURCES: Julie Winstone, M.Sc., doctoral student, Centre for Visual Cognition, department of psychology, University of Southampton, Hampshire, U.K.; Steven Ferris, Ph.D., Friedman professor for Alzheimer's Disease, New York University School of Medicine, and executive director, Silberstein Institute for Aging and Dementia, New York University Medical Center, New York City; July 11, 2002, presentation, British Psychological Society meeting, Winchester, U.K.
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