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Do brain games really improve memory? -- hand holding smartpphone with game app

Answer:

Brain training apps (computer or mobile phone applications and games), known as "brain games," promise to improve your memory and attention skills, ability to make good decisions, and even vision and hearing. There are numerous products on the market (Brain HQ, Lumosity, Cogmed, Project: EVO, etc.) and the claims of these companies are tantalizing: Who wouldn't want to get smarter by playing a game on their phone? While many of these products originate from scientific research that has shown positive effect in some individuals, the effectiveness of these apps are highly controversial. 

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10 Comments

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David16996
August 1, 2018

My brain training comment may seem more like a question. I hope that this is an okay use of this forum. Brain training is a fascinating subject. In years past (including university and postgraduate training) I have been recognized for having excellent memory and associative skills. However, I have been a frustrated low performer when it comes to sight reading music for guitar, my chosen instrument. Now that I am retired and have more free time, I would welcome any general or specific comments about brain training methods that might help me more efficiently improve my musical skills.

Stephen16995
August 1, 2018

As my 95 year old Gran would say, "Reading is food for the brain"

Jack16985
August 1, 2018

Lumosity works. Proof? Experience it yourself: Take any one of their games, and play it daily for 2 months. You are guaranteed to play that particular game better.

So....even if the only improvement your brain experienced was the ability to play that (and only that) game better, that is STILL an improvement in SOMETHING in there between your ears, and thus worth it. All gain is valuable, all improvement is a positive.

ConsumerLab.com
August 1, 2018

Yes, as we discuss, you are likely to get better at the game, and there is no downside other than time and money spent. The bigger question is whether the improvement carries over to real life situations.

Robert16501
February 25, 2018

It seems likely from the literature that acquiring complex new skills that do not draw primarily on existing skills is most effective in forming new neural connections and preserving brain plasticity. One such skill, suitable for healthy individuals in their 60's, 70's or beyond, is learning to fly. (I was 60 when I got my license.) The skill set is complex (cognitive, psychomotor, and affective) and highly interactive. It requires concentration and the ability to monitor, anticipate change in, and act on several factors at the same time. There are new licensing options that are friendly to older adults and some options, such as flying clubs, are affordable for many. It is not for everyone but flying is a great deal of highly engaging fun and a great way to see meet new people and see new sights.

Brenda16498
February 25, 2018

I’m 62 and I have the free version of Lumosity. The games are fun and challenging. Do they help keep my brain sharp? Who knows. Probably no more than the crossword puzzles I do, knitting, childcare, gardening or playing Angry Birds Transformers. But playing computer games is also a fun way to stay current and relevant with the kiddos and young people in my life. Who in turn repay me by helping keep me young.

Carole16481
February 21, 2018

The question is very broad and the answer: is some types of activities work, for some things, sometimes!
As a mental health scientist, the ads for "brain training" promise too much! But, we do know that using our brain, especially in novel ways is good. Our brain continues to learn and can improve over the course of our lifetime, absent disease. What is usually not emphasized is that things like walking and regular exercise keep the blood flowing and is excellent for our brain. This is different than sitting in front of a computer and doing games! Same thing with activities such as puzzles, crossword puzzles, art, languages, and music! Many of these activities require that we use our brains AND different parts of our bodies. They usually require hand-eye coordination. All of these activities require ENGAGEMENT from multiple parts of our brain and our body!
So, does "brain training" work? Sort of, partly, but there is no research that says it works better than the human activities we can choose to do every day, at No Cost!
So, be active, find things that you find interesting and like to do, engage with other people and MOVE!

Carl16485
February 21, 2018

Thanks.
I think the largest issue with such "brain enhancement" activities is that some, perhaps most, participants will use their available time on such and not realize that even greater gains/ reduction in losses be achieved by regular walking, swimming and, yes, also keeping the mind active by travelling, doing crosswords, sudoku, playing bridge or chess, learning a foreign language etc.

ConsumerLab.com
February 21, 2018

Those are all wonderful activities, Carl. Interestingly, as noted in our Answer above, one of the brain training apps was compared in a study to doing a crossword puzzle. Apparently the app was better on some measures that the crossword puzzle, but that doesn't mean doing puzzles is not worthwhile or won't result in benefits not measured in the study.

Remo16497
February 23, 2018

I couldn't agree more with Carole 16481. At 89 I abhor those games. Give me everyday living problems. I work at a college two-days a week, a read in two languages and pursue many of the activities that occupied me at earlier stage of my life: photography, design and art. Reading journals that stretch vocabulary and different areas of knowledge are not only as effective as puzzles and games but more stimulating. The activity that most helps me stay alert is driving in New York traffic. The trip to work is 36 miles both ways. Think of the myriad decisions I have to process to get my destination and back and do it safely. I recommend it to those of my age rather seating home before a computer playing games.

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