The Truth About Brain-Training Games 

The science is mixed on brain games.

We all want to protect and preserve our minds as we age. Can so-called brain-training games work? Can they help us preserve our memory, our words, our wit?  

A multi-billion-dollar industry has exploded based on our hopes that they do. There are apps, online courses, even simple puzzles that claim to “exercise” your brain in ways that can maintain or improve your cognitive function. 

One app, Lumosity, consists of games designed to engage memory, improve your attention, boost your problem-solving skills, and more. AARP Staying Sharp is a membership program that includes games to “help protect and strengthen your brain.” Many consider low-tech games like chess and sudoku to offer similar benefits. 

But will these diversions really protect your cognitive health? Well, yes and no. 

What the Science Shows 
We’ll get the bad news out of the way first: Brain training alone isn’t likely to stave off dementia. Dementia is a complex disease and we simply don’t know how to prevent it. 

Brain training does help in some ways, though. Some research shows that brain games help preserve some of the brain function that naturally declines as we age, such as your ability to react, plan, and make decisions. 

If you’re looking for a reason to believe (or not believe) in the effectiveness of brain training games, you can find a study to confirm your position. The conflicting evidence has divided the scientific community for some time. 

In 2014, two large groups of leading scientists published letters on the efficacy of brain-training interventions. One letter claimed that brain games are not a scientifically sound approach to improve cognitive functioning or prevent cognitive decline. The other letter, written in response, countered that many studies have shown brain training can benefit a variety of cognitive and everyday activities. 

More recently, researchers reviewed a large body of research on brain-training programs. Here’s what they found: 

  • Abundant evidence that brain-training interventions improve performance on assigned tasks 
  • Some evidence that they improve performance on closely related tasks
  • Little evidence that they improve everyday cognitive performance

How to Protect Your Brain 
Even with conflicting evidence, you shouldn’t dismiss brain-training games if they appeal to you. It’s true they may not prevent you from getting dementia. However, they can keep your mind busy and engaged as you age. 

That being said, you’ll need a multi-tiered approach if you want to protect your brain from cognitive decline. Put physical activity at the very top of your list. Exercise is proven to help keep your mind (and body) in the best possible shape as you age. Good nutrition is crucial, too.

If you want to do even more than that, talk to your MDVIP-affiliated physician about your options. Some medications can make you feel foggy, so an adjustment in those may have a near-immediate benefit on how well you remember and react to things. On the flipside, you might need to start treatment for conditions that can make you feel forgetful or foggy, including depression and sleep apnea.