The “Brain Games” Debate: Fact vs. Advertising

Many of us have seen advertisements on our computers and TVs for companies like Lumosity that offer us a chance to get our brains “fit.” The ads feature cheerful older adults making claims that they now think quicker and solve problems more easily. But, in early 2016, the Federal Trade Commission put a stop to these ads because the claims they were making weren’t backed by clear scientific evidence. The New York Times wrote about this decision, but the debate regarding brain-training computer games is still going. So what does the science support, and what’s just good advertising?

What Studies Showed
The Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, an international journal focused on aging, recently published a trial conducted on the effect of computerized cognitive training (CCT) on cognition in older adults. In the randomized controlled trial, researchers found some (but not much) improvement in scores on the mini-mental state exam, a standard questionnaire test for cognitive function. Similarly, a meta-analysis published in the Australian Occupational Therapy Journal showed that CCT may have a positive effect on some brain functions, like memory and visuospatial skills, but no effect on others, such as attention span and executive function.

Why It Matters
Our minds make us who we are! Cognition (along with all of the body’s other functions) starts to decline as we grow older, so it is important to take steps to ensure healthy brain aging.

Expert Insight
The controversy regarding the effectiveness of brain-training games offered by companies like Lumosity is still ongoing—it’s not clear what brain functions they improve, or if they simply improve your performance on the game itself. On the other hand, changes such as continued education, a healthy diet like the Mediterranean diet and a physically active lifestyle have been scientifically proven to improve cognitive function. For more on this topic, check out our recent post on non-CCT brain challenges.

(Feature photo courtesy of pixabay.com

Nicolette Hoke

Nicolette Hoke is an intern with the Healthy Aging Project, and a student in the Integrative Physiology Department at the University of Colorado Boulder.