Can this driving video game rejuvenate your brain?

Scientists find that a multitasking driving game called NeuroRacer makes the brains of octogenarians behave decades younger.

NeuroRacer players have to negotiate a hilly course while picking out roadsigns.
Screenshot by Tim Hornyak/CNET

Some people think video games rot your brain, but a new study suggests the opposite may be true if you're older.

Neurological activity in the brains of people as old as 80 began resembling that of people in their 20s after playing a multitasking driving game, according to a report published Thursday in the science journal Nature.

Older adults who drove a car around a course in NeuroRacer while picking out road signs showed improvement in their short-term memory and long-term focus, suggesting that games tailored to specific skills can have cognitive benefits.

A group led by neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley of the University of California, San Francisco, tested 30 adults of various ages on their multitasking skills as measured by gaming.

They confirmed that the skills deteriorate with age, but then had 46 participants aged 60-85 undergo a four-week training period with NeuroRacer, which involves a hilly driving course and signs that pop up. The game got harder as the players improved.

After the training, the subjects' ability to do multiple things at once such as driving and picking out signs, improved to the point that they got higher scores than untrained 20-year-olds. The skill level remained intact six months later without practice, according to Nature.

Significantly, other skills also benefited. Working memory and sustained attention, which are abilities used in everyday tasks, were better and stayed better.

The results contrast with earlier data suggesting brain games don't improve cognition.

"These findings highlight the robust plasticity of the prefrontal cognitive control system in the aging brain, and provide the first evidence, to our knowledge, of how a custom-designed video game can be used to assess cognitive abilities across the lifespan, evaluate underlying neural mechanisms, and serve as a powerful tool for cognitive enhancement," the authors write in the study.

Check out a demo of NeuroRacer in the vid below. Do you plan to sharpen your brain by gaming?