The Washington Post recently drew attention to a hotly debated topic within the neuroscience community: Do brain training games actually improve cognitive or brain function? While the answer may be complex, recent research has been discouraging for brain game companies and consumers alike.
What Are Brain Training Games?
Brain training consists of puzzles or games that, with practice, are often advertised as a way to improve your cognitive abilities, such as memory or attention. You can find many brain game companies online, such as Lumosity, or as an app on your smartphone.
There are even entire “Brain Performance Centers” that make similar claims as brain games, such as treating symptoms of ADHD or memory loss.
Why Don’t the Brain Games Really Help?
One word: Transfer
When you practice shooting a basketball, you become better at shooting a basketball. Practice makes perfect. You (hopefully) don’t assume that practicing basketball will help you on your math test.
When you play brain games, you become better at the brain games. However, there is not much evidence to suggest that becoming better at brain games improves your daily functioning or reduces your risk of developing dementia.
Brain games don’t seem to transfer to skills outside of the brain game.
So, How Can I Keep My Brain Healthy?
Stay active, both physically and socially! Remember, if it’s good for your heart, it’s probably good for your brain. This also includes managing your diet and vascular, or heart disease, risk factors, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
Brain games, or other activities that require thought, such as Sudoku or crossword puzzles, seem like an obvious answer for improving cognition, daily functioning, and reducing risk for dementia, but the scientific evidence isn’t there at this time.
With that said, there is nothing harmful about doing a crossword puzzle, so keep playing these games if you enjoy them! Just don’t view them as a sufficient activity or replacement for your treatment or health plan.
So go for a walk, see a concert, or volunteer! Your brain will thank you AND you’ll feel good about it too.
How Can I Check My Brain Health?
Similar to brain games, online or app-based brain tests do not provide a full picture of your cognitive health and might give you the wrong impression. A neuropsychological evaluation provides detailed information about your current cognitive abilities in the context of your own medical history and reported symptoms, as compared to others with a similar background.
Neuropsychologists are uniquely trained to assess cognitive and behavioral functioning and can help you and your loved ones understand the impact your symptoms may be having on your lives.