Do Brain Games and Brain Training Exercises Really Work?

Do Brain Games and Brain Training Exercises Really Work?

With age, you might notice your memory… well, lagging.

Perhaps you can’t remember where you left your keys or you keep forgetting certain words in the middle of a sentence.

You might turn to brain games or brain training exercises to help.

Our initial goal was to show you some of these brain games, but we quickly discovered that they might not be as powerful as we all previously thought.

Is Brain Training Effective?

In 2014, there was a big scientific debate. One group of 70 scientists said that brain games don’t do much of anything. But another group of 133 scientists said that they certainly do! They claimed that brain games can help with a wide variety of cognitive and everyday activities.

So… who’s right?

In 2016, a new group of scientists from the University of Illinois declared that the debate happened because there’s no set of best practices for looking at brain games (Daniel J. Simons, et al). So, they decided to make some.

And after they did their own set of tests based on these new best practices, they found that brain training improves performance on the trained tasks – and only the trained tasks. The training didn’t actually help with everyday cognitive performance.

So… what the heck?!

Later on in 2016, Lumosity was in a legal battle against the FTC. They ended up paying $2 million for deceptive advertising charges.

Lumosity claimed that their brain games could help you perform better at work and in school – that the games could reduce or delay cognitive impairment associated with Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

But it turns out that these claims weren’t supported by much of anything. Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection explained, “Lumosity preyed on consumers’ fears about age-related cognitive decline, suggesting their games could stave off memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease, but Lumosity simply did not have the science to back up its ads.”

What’s worse is those testimonials we all saw on the television. They weren’t entirely honest. Those testimonials were from contests that were promised prizes like free iPads, a lifetime Lumosity subscription, and a trip to San Francisco.

And to make things even more interesting, in July 2016, more scientists from the University of California published their research about how brain training success is actually just a placebo effect.

Do Brain Games Work Or Are They Just Causing a Placebo Effect?

The study from the University of California (2016) explained that our desire to actually become smarter blinds us. We don’t realize that all of this brain training is just causing an illusion that we’re becoming smarter, and that illusion will eventually fade.

The Hippocampus is is associated with memory, in particular long-term memory.

The study explains that our general cognitive ability is related to genetics and a variety of other factors that seem to be out of our control, like health, mortality, income, and crime. That’s why the idea that brain games can actually make us smarter is so enticing.

This group of scientists did a short test with 2 sets of flyers. One flyer asked participants to come try out brain games, and that these games could help improve their memory. The other flyer didn’t say anything about memory improvement – it just promised an educational hour.

The group that came based off the “brain games” ad experienced the placebo effect – they thought their memory improved. The other group didn’t notice anything.

So, is there any way we can actually improve our memory and keep our intelligence from deteriorating over the years?

How to Actually Improve (or Preserve) Your Memory

Now that we know that brain games don’t actually work (or the science doesn’t support it yet), we’ve researched only scientific research to determine what (if anything) actually helps to improve your memory.

1) Physical Exercise

A study by Emrah Duzel and others in Brain: A Journal of Neurology (2016) found that going to the gym can actually preserve your memory. The explanation is quite scientific, but the researchers found that physical exercise can actually stop cognitive decline that happens when you age – which could eventually lead to Alzheimer’s disease.

In short, regular physical exercise could help stave off Alzheimer’s.

Note that they couldn’t conclude in this study that exercise improves your memory – only that it helps your memory from getting worse.

2) Get Good Sleep

Sleep affects our memory in a profound way. If you don’t get enough sleep, your ability to recall both short and long-term memories will be extremely difficult! While there’s still more research to be done on sleep stages and how they affect your ability to remember, we’ve known for decades that good sleep equals a clearer mind.

From C. Idzikowski’s research on sleep and memory in 1984 to Sandra Ackermann’s research in 2014, we know that sleep in general is great for your memory.

3) Watch Your Fat and Sugar Intake

We all know how important a good diet is for our physical health, but did you know it dramatically influences your memory?

A 2016 study published in Behavioural Brain Research found that a diet high in fat, sugar, or liquid sugar (example: soda) impaired hippocampal-dependent memory after just 1 week.

In layman’s terms, the areas of our brain that are crucial for memory become inflamed, which causes memory deficits.

The limbic system is responsible for our ability to remember. This is the area of the brain that can become inflamed, which causes memory issues.

To keep your memory sharp, eat whole foods and try to stay away from sugary drinks like pre-packaged juices and sodas.

4) Stay Healthy

Harvard also published an article on improving your memory (date unknown), which explained that the following can help:

  • A healthy diet
  • Regular exercise
  • Not smoking
  • Keeping a healthy blood pressure
  • Keeping a healthy cholesterol level
  • Keeping a healthy blood sugar level

So, while brain games and brain training can be fun – and making your brain work is certainly more productive than watching soap operas all day – being physically healthy is the best way to keep your brain healthy, too.

You can also use your free Medicare visit (once per year) to get your blood pressure and other important stats checked. Just call your doctor to schedule an appointment.

💬 Let us know in the comments – have you tried any brain training in the past? What was your experience?

Did you like this article? You may also like The 7 Best Reading Apps for Older Adults.

Posted on Friday, February 16

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