Do brain-training games work?

Everyone loves playing games. At least that is what the numbers on our site tell us, and what you let us know through your feedback. But are there games that can help you stave off the effects of age-related cognitive decline?

There are a plethora of game sites making all sorts of promises about their products including fighting memory loss and training to make your brain young again.

Last year, Lumosity, one of the biggest players in the ‘brain game’ market was fined $US2 million by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for deceptive trade practices.

“Lumosity preyed on consumers’ fears about age-related cognitive decline, suggesting their games could stave off memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease,” FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection Director Jessica Rich said in a statement. “But Lumosity simply did not have the science to back up its ads.”

Edith Cowan University researchers examined 26 peer-reviewed studies looking at the effectiveness of seven brain-training programs for people aged over 50 and reported mixed findings.

The Australian study identified 18 computerised brain-training programs available across the world that were marketed with scientific claims. Of these, only seven programs (fewer than 40 per cent) had been assessed by peer-reviewed studies and only two met the highest standards asked of the researchers – BrainHQ and Cognifit.

Other studies around the world have been even more damning about the claims made by brain-training web sites.

In the US, a coalition of nearly 70 researchers and neuroscientists signed a letter of consensus debunking most of the hype and marketing on the popular brain-training sites.

The letter stated that some of the research used by the companies marketing brain games was only loosely related to the scientific claims they were making.

It concluded that there was ‘little evidence that playing brain games improves underlying broad cognitive abilities, or that it enables one to better navigate a complex realm of everyday life’.

A consumer group in the UK asked three experts to check the claims being made by brain-training games and they found the evidence non-existent or extremely weak.

What to believe
If you enjoy playing these brain-training games, there is no reason to stop. However, if you are scheduling a routine to play these games and expecting some boost to your memory, you may need to think again. You will derive just as much benefit from playing regular online games such as crosswords, trivia, Sudoku or mah-jong at YourLifeChoices.

Research shows that not all brain-training games boost real-world cognition. If you are paying for these programs, in some cases you might be better off using that money to buy a gym membership to enhance your cognitive abilities.

Do you use any brain-training apps or services? Do you think they have been working for you? Would you recommend them to a friend?

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Written by Ben

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