Do brain training games work?

These days many online games and apps claim to improve memory, brain processing speed, and overall problem-solving skills … and to postpone the onset of age-related memory loss.

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So, do these games work?

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First, the bad news …

The apparent consensus among scientists is that these games and apps are not grounded in relevant science.

According to The Stanford University Center on Longevity and the Berlin Max Planck Institute for Human Development:

“The strong consensus  is that the scientific literature does not support claims that the use of software-based “brain games” alters neural functioning in ways that improve general cognitive performance in everyday life, or prevent cognitive slowing and brain disease.”  Source: Hollins “Build a Better Brain”

To that point:

An independent review of 18 such online resources found that 11 of them can present absolutely no scientific evidence to support their claims … about actual effectiveness in terms of intelligence or mental agility.

In fact, one of the best-known companies in the space, Lumosity, outright said their programs will help brain plasticity and got hit with a $2 million fine by the Federal Trade Commission for false advertising.
Source: Hollins “Build a Better Brain”

So, a prevalent conclusion is that:

Additional studies found that participants engaging in brain games improve in their ability to play the games, but these skills waned after a couple of months and did not transfer between different tasks.

In other words, the scientific consensus — based on evidence uncovered to date — is that brain games are a harmless way to pass the time, but don’t make players any smarter.

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On the other hand …

OK, the consensus is discouraging, but …

Let’s consider a specific set of evidence …

In his book “Neurofitness: A Brain Surgeon’s Secrets”, Dr. Dr. Rahul Jandial presents a study that I found to be pretty compelling.

A study recruited 2,832 healthy older adults with an average age of 73.6 years at the beginning of the trial.

The researchers randomly divided them into four groups.

  • One group received no brain training at all;
  • Two groups were taught tricks for improving memory and reasoning;
  • The fourth and final group spent 10 hours playing a video game designed to improve their so-called “speed of processing.”

Ten years later…

Those who had completed the most hours of training in the speed-of-processing group had their risk of developing dementia nearly cut in half — a result that no drug or any other treatment has ever come close to achieving.

Dr. Jandial goes onto say:

Speed-of-processing training was developed by a company called BrainHQ,

The training involves looking at a center target on a computer screen while tiny icons appear briefly on the screen’s periphery.

The challenge is to keep your eyes firmly fixed on the center yet still correctly identify exactly where those icons appeared.

The better you get, the faster the icons on the screen’s edge appear and disappear.

And, Dr Jandial makes a specific recommendation:

BrainHQ is one of the best-researched programs available for brain training.

If you want to try computerized training, I don’t know of a better site to try.

Draw your own conclusion.

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Note: In a follow-on post, we’ll explore some traditional brain games…

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Follow on Twitter @KenHoma

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