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Medical Skepticism Over Brain Games

Millions around the world rely on notepad scribbles, memos in smartphones and shopping checklists as tools to jog the memory. Since the early 2000s, the influx of computer-based brain games has promised people even more command of their mental acuity—improved memory skills, faster recall of childhood stories and even prevention of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive decline. But are these brain games really working?

The Center on Longevity at Stanford University and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin queried more than 70 neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists and academics about their views on the plethora of brain games. The cognition experts from 40 institutions in six countries shared a year’s worth of data and observations in a 2014 consensus report. Their findings? Brain-game manufacturers often overstate that their products are producing significant gains in memory and intelligence.

The digital brain-training products advertised to be educational and backed by science raised the most red flags for the group of international scientists. For decades, researchers have battled over the benefits of brain exercises, including those aimed at aging adults and struggling students. The brain and its processing, a complex infrastructure of about 100 billion neurons that connect and send signals, is still widely a mystery.

Although brain games, such as crossword and Sudoku, do provide mental stimulation and appear to support short-term memory, there’s more investigation needed about computer-accessed cognition games boosting general brain functioning overall. Many Right at Home senior care providers, for example, are finding mental activities and physical exercise also benefit older adults with memory and cognitive limitations.

As the Stanford/Planck researchers note: “If an hour spent doing solo software drills is an hour not spent hiking, learning Italian, making a new recipe or playing with your grandchildren, it may not be worth it.”

What do you think about the benefits of computer-based brain games?

Author Beth Lueders

An award-winning journalist who has documented stories in nearly 20 countries, Beth Lueders is an author, writer and speaker who frequently reports on diverse topics, including aging and health issues for both U.S. and international corporations.

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