Do Brain Games Have The Health Benefits They Claim?

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Source: Caesar Wong

Source: Caesar Wong

Brain games, or video games aimed at improving attention, working memory, and spatial reasoning, have become very popular recently thanks to the ubiquitous nature of smartphones and tablets that make video games constantly available to us, but do they even work? Many of the creators of these games make claims that they can do everything from improving SAT scores in teens to delaying Alzheimer’s, but critics have questioned these proclamations.

It isn’t surprising that this market has sprung up. Mobile gaming devices (including smartphones) are everywhere, and health-conscious adults often prefer to play games that at least purport to improve cognition or health. Alzheimer’s disease is the second most frightening disease according to the American public, and there have been millions upon millions of people claiming to help students get into the college of their dreams with improved scores, but more often than not there is little truth to the solutions they sell.

Interestingly, it appears that at least some of the claims of game makers are actually true. As reported by Jeff Anderson, a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that brain-training improved cognition in seniors with dementia comparable “favorably with trials for drugs for dementia.” Britain’s National Health Service has also indicated with three separate studies that mental exercises such as those found in the games are possibly effective as a therapy for dementia. The games may not be able to prevent dementia or Alzheimer’s, but they seem to be at least able to improve some of the areas affected by the conditions.

Any claims that brain games can outright make you smarter or get higher grades are much more dubious however. A study published by the University of Oslo found that there are very limited benefits from brain training, even in children and that whatever benefits are experienced are isolated to the game, not general intelligence.

Anytime there are people selling something claiming to make you smarter or treat a mental illness that still puzzles doctors, it is always best to verify if there is any data to back up their claims. While Luminosity claims to make you “feel smarter” it probably won’t make you Albert Einstein. It might, however, help you learn focus strategies and exercise your memory in ways that help with other issues you may be having.

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