A Video Game Starring Bandit the Dolphin Aims to Strengthen Aging Brains

An immersive video game could help older adults maintain physical and cognitive health.

By Jackie Powder • Illustrations by Dung Hoang

A smiling dolphin named Bandit is the star of an interactive video game that could help older adults strengthen their brains and bodies. 

Michelle Carlson, PhD, MA, a professor in Mental Health, is exploring the game’s viability as a tool to exercise neural networks that control complex cognition and mobility. Players use a remote control and arm movements to guide Bandit through increasingly challenging game levels, from catching fish to battling a shark. 

The project, funded by the Johns Hopkins Roybal Center for Translational Research, builds on Carlson’s earlier work on the aging brain, including the Experience Corps studies, which demonstrated that seniors who tutored elementary school students showed cognitive improvements in the brain regions at greatest risk for age-related degeneration. 

Carlson and her team adapted the original video game, developed by the Kata design studio in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine’s Department of Neurology.

“We wanted to create an environment to wash the brain in a simulated world that is fun to be in and physically, cognitively and socially enriching,” says Carlson, core faculty with the Center on Aging and Health.  

The hope is that this brain training approach could help prevent age-related cognitive decline while enhancing older adults’ ability to navigate the real world—whether grocery store, mall or park. 

“I firmly believe that we’re raising the bar on what physical and cognitive interventions could be,” says Carlson.