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What to Look for in Brain Games that Promise Results

Mind On / Off

The scientific community is torn when it comes to the topic of brain games. That’s because this term is still relatively new and ambiguous. In some circles it encompasses any game, with the argument being that if you’re playing the game then you’re using your brain. Others say a brain game is anything that involves strategy, planning or quick thinking. Yet a third group believes the term refers to only those games that are designed specifically to improve cognitive function.

While no definition is wrong, there is a huge distinction between a game that is designed for fun, but also happens to exercise the brain, and a game that’s actually designed to target and enhance certain cognitive abilities. The problem with this discrepancy is that many seniors and Boomers purchase games from the former category thinking they’ll receive the benefits that can only be touted by games in the latter category.

In this way brain games are a lot like diet pills. There are hundreds of manufacturers out there claiming that theirs is the miracle pill that will make someone thin. Their infomercials show before-and-after pictures of perfectly toned individuals, making people believe that they, too, can look this good if they pop this pill. Many take the pills and see no changes.

Then there are the individuals who talk to their doctors about which pills can help them lose weight. The doctor prescribes an FDA-approved weight-loss drug and the individual begins to see immediate results. The difference between the two? Leg work. It takes a lot of education, research and design capabilities to create something that can legitimately assert its effectiveness and benefits.

So if you’re thinking about buying a brain game for someone who genuinely wants to improve their cognitive function and is hopeful they’ll see tangible results read on to be sure you know what to look for.


Any stimulating game could be considered a brain game. As we mentioned in a previous post, many popular classic games like Mah Jong, Gin Rummy and Scrabble are versions of brain games because they require a certain amount of wit, strategy, smarts and savvy to come out on top. However, if you’re looking to pay a company for a product that claims it’s specially designed as a “brain game” you need to be sure that they have the proper resources, namely an advisory committee of neurologists, geriatricians and psychiatrists, to prove it.

Proven Abilities

Brain games that say they can make you smarter, faster or sharper should be backed by legitimate scientific research. This usually comes in the form of studies conducted by a team of qualified researchers who can compare the cognitive states of brain game users and a control group both before and after the study.

If you hear any company say that its brain game has guaranteed or proven results, remember these two words: Show me.


There’s no point in purchasing a brain game if you lack the motivation to play it. Therefore, the entertainment value of the game is arguably as important as its cognitive-improving abilities. No one can tell you whether a specific game will keep you coming back for more, but be sure that the game sounds at least moderately inviting, entertaining and engaging to you before buying it. It’s also helpful to read online reviews or talk to others who have tried the games Things that might pique your interest include different themes, avatars, levels and interactive characters. Note, however, that the more features a game has the more complicated it may be to operate.


Everyone has different cognitive strengths and weaknesses, which brain games should be able to identify as such. Once these characteristics are identified the game should be designed in a way that it doesn’t play to your weaknesses or hinder your strengths. Instead, it should make you feel comfortable and confident enough that you want to advance in the game, but not so easy that you’re flying through the exercises. The game’s difficulty should shift with you as you progress toward your goal.

Set Goals

Brain game is a broad term that refers to a large set of cognitive functions. That’s why you need to be sure that the game you choose focuses on the skill you’re hoping to improve whether that be memory, attention span, reflex speed, fine motor control or others. These goals should also include information on how often the game should be played. It’s true that the brain is like a muscle, and it must be worked out on a semi-regular basis to continue seeing progress. The brain game should clearly outline the desired goals, as well as specific instructions on how to achieve these goals.


Speaking of goals, it’s difficult to tell whether you’re achieving yours unless the brain game can provide you with feedback. These assessments don’t need to be exhaustive or overly scientific, but they should at least let you know where you stack up compared to those your age or those younger or older than you. Even more importantly, it should track your progress. This will allow you to stay on point and correct yourself if you start slipping.

Frequent Updates

Technology, like a sharp brain, is never stagnant. It’s always changing, evolving, improving. Unfortunately, this can be a bad thing because as soon as you purchase a brain game you’re stuck with that model. Once you take the tests or beat the program that may be it, and then what are you going to do to keep your brain exercises going?

That’s why you should purchase a brain game from a company that can provide you with updated online versions of its product.


A brain game doesn’t have to be a solitary activity. In fact, it can involve the whole family or retirement community. This isn’t a feature that every senior may desire, but those who also want to increase their levels of interaction or feelings of connectedness should look for games that they can play with their friends or even grandkids. Just be sure that all scores and progress can be tracked separately.

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