VIDEO games can give a boost to an elderly person's brainpower, scientists have found. Interactive games can improve the mental functions that decline most with age, said Professor Arthur Kramer, professor of psychology at the University of Illinois. His researchers recruited 40 people in their 60s and 70s, half of whom were asked to play the role-playing video game Rise of Nations in which players have to build cities, maintain an army and expand their territory. Both groups did a variety of brain power tests before, during and after the game. Those who played the video game became significantly better at 'executive control' functions such as the ability to switch between tasks, short-term visual memory, reasoning skills and working memory. Professor Kramer said: 'This is the first such study of older adults and it is the first to find such pronounced effects on cognitive skills not directly related to the skills learned in the video game. 'When you train somebody on a task they tend to improve in that task, whatever it is, but it usually doesn't transfer much beyond that skill or beyond the particular situation in which they learned it. 'This is one mode in which older people can stay mentally fit, cognitively fit. The more training on the video game - the more benefit.' Previous research suggested video and computer games were a workout for the mind and memory, but there was no evidence players could transfer the enhanced skills to everyday activities. The study is published in the journal Psychology & Ageing. Despite the increasing popularity of brain training games - promoted by celebrities such as actress Nicole Kidman - critics have argued there is little evidence to show the skills are transferable. Researcher Chandramallika Basak, lead author on the study, said the type of video game was important in honing these skills, and Rise of Nations was a good choice as a 'strategic' game. He said 'You need merchants. You need an army to protect yourself and you have to make sure you're spending some of your resources on education and food. 'This game stresses a lot on resource management and planning, which I think for older adults is important because many of them independently plan and manage their resources.' Prof Kramer said 'There was a correlation between their performance on the game and their improvement on certain cognitive tests. 'Those who did well in the game also improved the most on switching between tasks. They also tended to do better on tests of working memory. 'This is the first such study of older adults, and it is the first to find such pronounced effects on cognitive skills not directly related to the skills learned in the video game. 'I'm not suggesting, however, that it's the only thing they should do,' he added. Other activities, in particular socialising, exercising and eating well, were also important to maintaining healthy cognitive function in later years, he said. Dr Susanne Sorenson from the Alzheimer's Society highlighted the value of a healthy lifestyle. 'The jury's still out on whether exercising your brain with puzzles, games or other activities can promote cognitive health and reduce the risk of dementia. 'What we do know is that exercise and eating a healthy diet, including a variety of fruit, vegetables and oily fish, can help to lower the risks. 'A healthy heart is linked to a healthy brain.' - DM