As Australia's prison population continues to age, there is a pressing need to address under-detected cognitive decline faced by this often-overlooked group.

Nearly one in four people in Australian prisons are aged 45 and over, presenting distinct challenges to the prison and corrective services sector. In general, people in prison experience age-related health conditions earlier than those in the community due to social and lifestyle characteristics. Whilst diagnoses of some chronic conditions such as diabetes and arthritis are straightforward, studies have shown that that cognitive deficits are considerably under-detected and under-diagnosed in prison environments.

An emerging area of research is the study of serious games for cognitive assessment. Serious games can offer fun, motivating and immersive user experiences that still enable valid cognitive testing.   Serious games have also been shown to offer a brief, cost-effective, and scalable substitute for more traditional assessment methods.

To further work in addressing the cognitive needs of older people in prison, researchers including members from the UNSW Ageing Futures Institute carried out a study to investigate the design preferences of older adults in prison for a game-based cognitive assessment.

Focus groups were held with older participants across three distinct prison environments in Australia. Analysis of the focus groups revealed three key themes that shed light on the design preferences of this often-neglected population. The first theme "Goldilocks” highlighted the participants' collective desire for individualized difficulty levels in serious gameplay. The second theme, "Avoiding Childish Graphics” emphasised to the participants' aversion to immature and childlike gameplay features. The third theme, "A Balanced Diet” highlighted the participants' strong preference for meaningful choice and variety in game-based cognitive assessments.

“These insights offer valuable guidance for designing game-based cognitive assessments tailored to the preferences of older prisoners. By incorporating individualized challenge levels, mature aesthetics, and meaningful choice, assessments can become more inclusive and engaging, providing a respectful and empowering approach to cognitive evaluation within prison environments.” says lead author Rhys Mantell.

“Understanding the design preferences of older prisoners for game-based cognitive assessments is crucial for developing effective and scalable interventions for the prison sector. By considering the insights gained from this study, we can create engaging, respectful, and empowering serious games that cater to the unique needs of these often-overlooked populations.”

Access the full journal article here