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Do Brain Games Actually Work?

Two weeks ago, I wrote an ElderGadget post on the so-called brain game phenomenon. As I described, not only is it important to keep your mind active, but I suggested that the most effective way to achieve such a goal was through interactive, senior-friendly games likeMindFitBrain Fitness and Brain Age.

For the most part, the reaction to the post was rather positive, which makes sense, given the fact that the brain game market is currently soaring. However, a few readers – skeptical of the whole brain game hoopla – decided to e-mail me with information about studies that go as far to suggest that brain games may not actually help seniors on a cognitive level. In other words, the skills you develop and hone through the game may not have a real-life application.

I want to draw attention to one specific article that was published a few weeks ago in the Scientific American, “Brain Games: Do They Really Work?”:

Most of these early studies (that confirm the effectiveness of brain games) were done on rodents. So lost in the brain games buzz is the obvious question: Are these claims true when it comes to human brain performance and aging? Can they really make your brain faster and stronger? Are they really better than the tried-and-true approach: remaining healthy, active, and engaged in world around you? In other words, are they worth the money?

The article suggests that while brain games may help fight off cognitive decline to a certain extent, they are no more effective for the brain than living an active and healthy lifestyle.

So where does all of this contradictory information leave the consumer? I advise that with brain games elders should proceed with a certain amount of caution. That is, don’t expect MindFit or Brain Age to produce an overnight cognitive miracle or to single-handedly fight offAlzheimer’s. From what I understand,  brain games don’t improve the cognitive function for seniors who are already mentally fit because of the ceiling effect. For those with a mild memory disorder, it is more effective to focus on real-life skills, such as paying bills, counting change and associating names with faces, as opposed to playing Scrabble.

Remember, using brain games isn’t enough to ensure a healthy mind. So instead of obsessing over breaking a personal record with a Brain Age game, it might be useful to eat healthy, partake in physical activities and sociailize on a regular basis. But there is no particular harm in its usage, either, especially if brain games are a source of motivation and excitement.

Martyn Hocking, editor of consumer-advocate website Which? sums it up best: “If people enjoy using these games, then they should continue to do so – that’s a no-brainer. But if people are under the illusion that these devices are scientifically proven to keep their minds in shape, they need to think again.”


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