ASK DR. H: Players can benefit from video games

Q: Do you think there’s any benefit to my 9-year-old granddaughter playing video games? — P.L., Atlanta

Can playing video games offer health benefits? AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

Can playing video games offer health benefits? AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

A: Believe it or not, psychologists have found that carefully chosen non-violent games do have some surprising brain-enhancing benefits.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota looked at existing research on video games and found that avid video game players are fast and accurate information processors, not only during game play, but in real-life situations as well. For example, regular video gamers got faster not only on their game of choice, but on a variety of unrelated lab tests of reaction time. Additionally, the researchers found that contrary to the popular belief that fast decisions lead to more mistakes, avid gamers do not lose accuracy (in the game or in lab tests) as they get faster. They also found that playing video games enhances performance on mental rotational skills, visual and spatial memory and tasks requiring divided attention.

Carefully chosen video games also can encourage logical thinking, reading skills, vocabulary development, problem solving, strategy planning and observational skills. With that said, it’s important to balance this activity with regular physical exercise and sunshine.

Q: My mother insists on drinking cold medication right out of the bottle instead of measuring the dose. Don’t you think that’s kind of dangerous?— R.T., Brooklyn, N.Y.

A: I think that’s a very dangerous practice, because it’s a guarantee that she’ll take either too little or too much. An overdose of dextromethorphan (cough suppressant), phenylephrine (decongestant) or diphenhydramine (a sedating antihistamine) is the more likely scenario. Because cold medications are packaged with measuring cups to ensure proper dosing, there’s no need to resort to using kitchen spoons or drinking directly out of the bottle.

Regarding the practice of using kitchen spoons, a study just published in the Annals of Internal Medicine asked 195 former cold and flu sufferers to pour a teaspoon of nighttime cold/flu medication into spoons of various sizes. When pouring medication into a medium-size spoon, the study participants poured an average of 8.4 percent too little medicine; when using a larger spoon, study participants poured an average of 11.6 percent too much medicine. Although that might not sound like much, when you consider that such pouring errors are occurring several times a day over several days, it really adds up.

Dr. Mitchell Hecht is a physician specializing in internal medicine. Send questions to him at: “Ask Dr. H,” P.O. Box 767787, Roswell, GA 30076. Because of the large volume of mail received, personal replies are not possible.

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