Brain Games: Do They Work?
Do brain training games improve cognitive or brain function? Brain training consists of puzzles or games that, with practice, are advertised to enhance your cognitive abilities, such as memory or attention. You can find many brain game companies online or via smartphone apps like Luminosity or Elevate. There are even entire ‘brain performance centers’ that promise similar results, such as treating ADHD or memory loss symptoms.
Why is the neuroscience community skeptical that brain games may not achieve the results they promise? One word: transfer.
When you practice shooting a basketball, you become better at shooting a basketball. Most people don’t assume that practicing basketball will help them ace an upcoming math test or name every U.S. president.
The same principle applies to brain training. When you play brain games, you become better at the brain games themselves. However, there is not much data to suggest that becoming better at brain games improves your daily functioning or reduces your risk of developing dementia. There is limited evidence that brain games transfer the rehearsed skills to situations outside of the brain game itself.
What about traditional “brain games” that require thinking such as Sudoku or crossword puzzles? These games seem like another obvious way to improve cognition, daily functioning, and reduce the risk of dementia while being less reliant on technology. Unfortunately, there is minimal scientific evidence that these games, in isolation, can improve cognitive or daily functioning.
There is evidence that a cognitively stimulating lifestyle (lifelong learning, staying socially active) can help delay symptoms of dementia, but the data largely support lifestyle factors and patterns rather than one single behavior. 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 medical treatment or a health plan.
Like 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 medical history and reported symptoms compared to others with a similar background. Neuropsychologists are uniquely trained to assess cognitive and behavioral functioning. They can help you and your loved ones understand the impact your symptoms may be having on your lives.
If you’re looking for another way to improve your memory or attention-span, one of the simplest and most effective ways is to stay active both physically and socially. Keep in mind that if an activity is good for your heart, it’s probably good for your brain too. Healthy brain-behavior involves managing your diet and reducing heart disease risk factors, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Go for a walk, take up a new hobby, or volunteer! Your brain will thank you, AND you’ll feel good about it too.
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