Pay-per-play mental gynastics

wash_post_pumping_neurons.jpgThe Washington Post asked one of their journalists to test-drive several of the increasing number of ‘cognitive fitness’ websites that have online games and puzzles specifically designed to increase mental performance.

Although there isn’t a massive amount of research on the subject, the little research there is suggests that staying mentally active, particularly during later life, can increase or maintain mental abilities.

The success of Nintendo’s Brain Age cartridge has spawned an industry of ‘mental workout’ computer games, many of which are now available on pay-for-use websites.

The Washington Post article gives a brief run-down of some of the science that motivates these companies, and tries out several of the websites for size.

Interestingly, the Post also got research psychologists to comment on the sites to see if their tasks were likely to be doing what they claimed.

Link to Washington Post article ‘Pumping Neurons’.

2 thoughts on “Pay-per-play mental gynastics”

  1. Vaughan,
    Thanks for the heads up to that good article. I linked to it, and to your post.
    Now, I would recommend anyone considering such programs to always ask the questions:
    1) What does the specific program look like: how many hours a week, how many weeks, and to accomplish what outcomes?
    2) What research has been published, or has been submitted to publication, that supports that precise program?
    3) How do any benefits transfer to real life and to our cognitive abilities/ skills?
    More at

  2. There are some good studies. Take a look at the Bronx Aging Study, led by Dr. Joe Verghese and his team at Einstein College of Medicine. And Drs. Yaakov Stern and Nikos Scarmeas’ research at Columbia University in the Washington Heights-Inwood Aging Study. There are a number of other studies around the world finding similar results. These two are large, longitudinal studies that look at what folks actually do and then relate that to the probabilities of Alzheimer’s and dementia. In both cases, they found that certain leisure activities reduce the probabilities of Alzheimer’s and dementia significantly. They looked specifically at which activities. Dancing and challenging, interactive games do well. Crossword puzzles trend only slightly positively. And there’s a whole range in between. The point is that there is a huge amount known about what works and what doesn’t but most people don’t have a clue. And of course, we’re learning more everyday. Clearly, no one game or exercise or activity is perfect. It takes regular, consistent cross-training with variety, challege, and novelty to build “cognitive reserve,” according to these experts. Educating folks is key as are tools, like games, that can be both based on science and motivating for a person to actually use.

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