There is some controversy as to whether brain development games really make a difference. In the past researchers found that games improved the ability of people to play the games but did not necessarily spill over into other areas. In other words, if you play a lot of Scrabble, you will become really good at Scrabble but but this will not necessarily elevate your judgement, decision-making or planning skills. Many companies today sell brain games on the basis that these games improve cognitive function. However, is there any real scientific proof that they work?
Study by Alzheimer’s Society
A recent large randomized control trial funded by the Alzheimer’s Society has offered some interesting results. Researchers at King’s College University, London, found that brain development games did improve cognitive function in older people. In the study researchers tested 7,000 subjects above 50 years of age over a period of six months. The brain training package used consisted of three reasoning tasks. One group was given reasoning and problem solving tasks. A second group worked on cognitive skills such as memory and attention. A third control group looked for information on the internet. Participants were tested before starting the study and again after six weeks, three months and six months. The medically-approved tests included measuring memory and grammatical reasoning. Those over 60 were also assessed on how well they coped with daily activities like cooking, shopping and managing finances.
Participants who played the brain training games five times a week showed the most improvement. Participants over 50 showed a significant improvement in reasoning and verbal ability. Participants over 60 showed great improvement in scores on tests of daily living activities.
Challenge yourself by playing this demo game. You have to work out which is the heaviest single object from the positions of the see-saws. You must select an object you think is the heaviest and the better you get, the harder it becomes.
What is the significance of these results?
Dr Anne Corbet of King’s College said that the research added to growing evidence that lifestyle interventions may provide a more realistic opportunity to maintain cognitive function. They could potentially reduce the risk of cognitive decline later in life. Dr. Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at the Alzheimer’s Society, said that the study wasn’t long enough to test whether the brain training package prevents cognitive decline or dementia. However, he was excited about the fact that training the brain could have a positive impact on how well older people perform essential everyday tasks. The Alzheimer’s Society are currently funding a second study to further test brain training in people over 50. They want to investigate how genetics might affect performance, allowing them to get a better understanding of how brain training could be used to maintain cognition or even reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. If you are interested in taking part in the study, visit the project website.
One of the important features of the recent study was that the exercises became progressively more difficult. Participants continually faced new mental challenges. Perhaps this was the real benefit, more than the type of exercises as such. Although brain training software is everywhere these days, there are many simple ways to challenge your brain. Just as you need to exercise for a healthy body, it appears that exercising your brain can help prevent your mental faculties from deteriorating.
Eight simple activities to exercise your brain
- Eat or shower with your eyes closed. It creates an opportunity to use and strengthen your other senses.
- Brush your teeth with your opposite hand. It strengthens pathways and connections in the opposite side of your brain.
- Make a grocery list, memorize it and go shopping without it.
- Learn a new language or take up playing an instrument.
- Drive a different way to work. Introduce novelty into other daily activities.
- Take up a new hobby where you need to use fine-motor skills like drawing or embroidery.
- Play games with other people like board, word or card games. Strategise and interact with others.
- Do the crosswords in the magazines or newspapers you read.
How else can you help your brain?
Acccording to some research multitasking makes the brain less efficient. Constantly shifting between activities may seem efficient but it overloads the brain and tires it. Rather do one activity at a time and do it well.
Research has showed that overuse of technology can affect the way we process information. Heavy media multitaskers showed less ability switch tasks, with reduced ability to filter out interference from what was not relevant. Cutting yourself off from all technology for just half an hour may help your brain stay healthy. Instead of constantly responding to mobile pings, app alerts and incoming emails, focus on one task of substance.
Our brains are the most complex organs in our body. Playing brain games is stimulating and fun. Even if they do not prevent dementia or Alzheimer’s I will continue playing them even if there is some chance that they will help prevent my brain from deteriorating as I age.
Please leave your comments below. I would love to hear if you have found any novel ways to exercise your brain.