PacSci Perspectives

Play, It’s Important For Everyone

by | Jan 3, 2017

Play is something generally defined pure recreation, and not serious or particularly beneficial (especially for adults). Meet Dr. George Demiris, whose work explores the benefits of play in senior citizens, particularly those experiencing isolation. He sat down with us to discuss his research and his work in the Play exhibit, now showing inside Professor Wellbody’s Studio.

Define play:
In the context of my research, play is anything that engages peoples’ imagination, and is something they look forward—it’s fun without rules or required results.

Tell us a bit about your project. What inspired you?
I was very interested exploring interventions that would facilitate improvement in cognitive impairment. After a certain age, many seniors start to experience intense loneliness and isolation. These symptoms are quite prevalent, and I wanted to see how play could combat them. I helped to develop a digital companion for a tablet. Users could choose either a dog or cat that they could play with on the tablet. They could interact with it, and it would respond.

How did the “pets” benefit these patients?
In our follow-ups, we saw improvement in social activities, and a reduction in depression and anxiety. The “pet” would also offer gentle reminders to take medication or go for a walk.

We were originally concerned with our patients’ limited experience with computers. Would they be uncomfortable? Most, however, were eager to try the game. We invited family members to participate, so they could keep us updated on any issues. Most, however, wanted to keep the avatar to themselves. It was their personal time—something they looked forward to.

What made you most interested in participating in this exhibit?
I had some lectures about age and pharmaceutical solutions to the issues I was initially interested in, but there was not a lot of entertainment or group therapy discussed. When I heard about the Play exhibit through the University of Washington, I thought my research could focus on play’s formal role to empower and engage older adults.

What “playful” activity do you most enjoy?
I would consider drawing and painting as part of play. I like to draw to sketch. I don’t have a goal to finish, but just come up with or document an idea. It’s “playing” because it doesn’t have any rules or deliverables. It’s something that I enjoy and it’s not for an audience. I used to think it was just a fun way to pass time, but because of my work and my research, I know about the benefits that reduce anxiety and improve cognitive response. It keeps me alert and engaged.

Why do you think it’s important for adults and kids to play?
It provides people with an opportunity to explore and learn about themselves, and get to know other people better in a nonthreatening way in safe environment. Play is a place that allows people to find themselves and be individuals and not adhere to specific rule. You can be free and expressive yourself without judgment.