Do Brain Trainer Games Work?

A friend has looked for ways to improve his memory capacity and cognitive response, and thought that brain trainer games and software might work. As we get older, our brains decline in operating speed and performance. He’s been playing brain trainer games at Lumosity, which advertise that their subscription game service will “improve your brain health and performance”.

Brain Trainer Games Study Results

Scientific American covered a 2009 review of brain trainer games Brown University of 20 software studies that the results “underwhelming”. The most highly reviewed paper by the Mayo Clinic tested the Brain Fitness Program by Posit Science. While the 8-week brain trainer program worked, improving working memory and processing speed, the result was a mere 4% better than the control group that just watched educational documentaries.

Activity and Diet are the Best Brain Trainer Games

The article concludes that the best brain trainer is physical health and social activity are the best brain trainers. Several studies have shown a link between physical activity and cognition. An 8 year study of older women at the University of California found that the most active women had a 30% lower risk of cognitive decline, and that the amount of physical activity, not speed, was related to cognition. The study’s author concluded that, regarding activity, “a little was good but even more was better“.

Diet and Cognitive Function

Several studies have shown how diet affects cognitive function.  Two studies linked a Mediterranean diet, which includes lots of fruit, vegetables, grains, olive oil, beans and nuts, water, some seafood and wine, and less dairy, meat and sweets, and, in the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, also includes being physically active and social dining, with a lower rate of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Finally, a UCLA study linked traditional brain games, like crossword puzzles and brainteasers, may play a role along with fitness, diet and stress reduction. Unfortunately, this study doesn’t appear to have included a group that only did behavior modification to establish whether brain trainer games worked in this case.

(Photo: A Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from Ann Larie Valentine‘s photo stream)