Health & Fit Do Brain Games Actually Work?
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Put down your Sudoku puzzles. While countless companies offer video games or puzzles that claim to, many experts have their doubts that these types of games or puzzles are helpful. We asked some leading cognition professionals to set the record straight on the benefits of brain training games—and what else you can do to challenge and improve your mind.
What are brain games, anyway?
Brain training games ask players to complete tasks that practice specific cognitive skills like, attention, logic, and quick thinking. However, "there are differing views on what exactly constitutes a 'brain game,'" says Adam Gazzaley, MD, PhD, cofounder of , a company that develops therapeutic video games. "Games themselves are a vast genre, similar to other umbrella terms like 'sports' and 'drugs.'" Generally speaking, brain training activities can range from video games to puzzles to brain teasers, Dr. Gazzaley says.
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Are the claims true? Do brain games actually work?
When it comes to our brains, very few things are black and white—including the effectiveness of brain games for adults. "The answer is always 'it depends,' says, PhD, a neuroscientist at the University of California at Irvine. "It depends on what games, who plays them and for what purpose, and how long/how often/how intensely they are being played." Jeaggi's team at the Working Memory and Plasticity Laboratory has found that the response of individuals to brain training are often mixed; while some participants show cognitive improvement, others do not. More research is needed, experts say, to find the exact formula for brain-boosting success.
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Good news: Taking a nap is one of them!Before you start Googling “signs of dementia,” rest assured that some changes in memory and cognition are a normal part of the aging process, especially if they manifest as trouble finding words or momentary lapses in attention (Why did I walk into the kitchen?). “Many of our cognitive skills, like multitasking and processing speed, peak around age 30 and then tend to decline very subtly with age,” says Joel Kramer, Psy.D., director of the University of California San Francisco Memory and Aging Neuropsychology program.
What are the known benefits of brain games?
Studies have shown that playing certain games like solitaire or chess will make you better at the skills required to play those games, according to Jaeggi. But "the key thing to remember is that the skill you are getting better at is often incredibly specific," says, PhD, program director at the National Institute of Aging (NIA). For example, "your ability to remember the cards is trainable, and having card memory skills could be helpful in a variety of card games, but won't really do anything to improve your chess game, or necessarily do anything to help you learn how to memorize other things more generally."
How does brain training make our brains faster and stronger?
Although brain games might not have the magical benefits you hoped for, they are not a total wash. Turns out, by playing a certain game over and over again, you are actually changing the way your brain works. "The benefits engendered by video game play are often the result of neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to modify its structure, chemistry, and function in response to a challenge," Dr. Gazzaley says. "This phenomenon serves as the neural basis of learning." Translation: As you play brain games, your brain is adapting and rewiring itself to improve its performance. Don't miss more.
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Can brain games improve memory?
Research on the benefits of brain games for memory are not conclusive. Most experts agree, however, that memory-boosting games can improve the skills you practice while playing. For example, "if I repeatedly test your ability to remember briefly presented visual patterns, you will indeed get better at remembering those patterns," King says. To enhance your recall ability more generally, King recommends the so-called "method of loci," a technique that trains you to picture specific items on a mental list of objects you own in the corner, space, or room where they are placed.
Can brain games reduce age-related cognitive decline?
Age-related cognitive decline is another area where brain training games could actually have some positive effect, research shows. In a decade-long clinical trial conducted by Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE), participants stillfive years later. Better yet, some people benefited from the speed of processing training 10 years later. Ready to get started? Practice .
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Try these tips for better cognitive function."Aging is a natural process," says Dr. Douglas Scharre, director of the division of cognitive neurology and memory disorders at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. Some of those changes involve the accumulation of gray hairs and wrinkles and the development of osteoarthritis in the joints.
Can brain games prevent Alzheimer's disease?
If you play brain games to try to stave off, challenging your mind with the occasional Sudoku puzzle may not be worth your time. "Unfortunately, that's not a promise that we can make at this point (and probably never) given that Alzheimer's disease results from several factors, only some of which are in our control," Faeggi says. (You should stop believing these , too.)
What types of brain game programs work best?
Think twice before shelling out a lot of money for fancy brain training programs. There is not enough evidence for any of the currently available products to say which would work best, according to King. In fact, none of the major products that claim to improve your memory or intelligence have received FDA approval, and "only a very small number of products are currently pursuing FDA approval," he says. Stick to these, instead.
What other ways to keep our brains sharp?
Faeggi recommends incorporating more activities that require active thinking and problem solving into your daily routine, such as playing a musical instrument or board game, participating in a book club, or volunteering. Other lifestyle factors—such as getting enough sleep, being physically active, and eating nutrient-rich foods—might boost your brain, as well. Studies supported by the NIA are attempting to determine exactly which activities or lifestyle choices can help brains stay sharp, King says.
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What's ahead for brain games and cognitive research?
Researchers continue to explore what changes in the brain are caused by training, how we could make these training effects larger, and how to apply the training to all aspects of our lives, King says. The future of brain-boosting video games appears promising, too. "I am optimistic that continued high-level design and rigorous studies will support the use of custom-built, personalized, adaptive video games as effective tools to enhance and maintain brain function," Dr. Gazzaley says. "I believe that digital medicine will be a big part of our future."
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We're all a little tense. Here's a simple, anxiety-soothing way to unwind—and a few more options if that's not the stress reliever you need. The post The Most Relaxing Hobby You Can Do, According to This Survey appeared first on The Healthy. Gallery: 7 Morning Brain Exercises to Clear Your Mind (The Healthy) 1/8 SLIDES © Istock/itman__47 How can I sharpen my brain? It can be mentally exhausting to try and resume your "normal" schedule during coronavirus. You may be working remotely, helping your children adapt to hybrid learning, keeping your family safe from coronavirus, or all of the above.