“Hey Doc…do brain games like Luminosity really work?” One quick point of clarification with what is likely the most mispronounced name in the world now—the name of the company that makes brain training games is Lumosity, as opposed to the “brightness of something,” which would be luminosity. It would likely have made more sense to use the latter as it is in fact brightness of sorts that is in question with programs such as this.
Hardly a day goes by that I do not hear phrases exactly like this one, and for good reason. Folks genuinely want to know if they can make their brains work better. And they want to know if they can potentially avoid the devastating effects of the degeneration of the brain that comes with aging and, ultimately, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease .
Fears? Maybe. Valid concerns? Absolutely!
Are Claims Made By Brain Training Companies Exploitative?
A recent article in The Guardian, titled Brain Games Exploit Anxieties About Memory Loss for Profit-Scientists references an open letter signed by 73 members of the scientific community that largely condemns the effectiveness of brain games due to lack of adequate research supporting the claims made by the various companies producing them. Claims cited include making one smarter, speeding up the time it takes to learn, and reducing cognitive slowing and forgetfulness. In this letter the signatories do acknowledge the existence of brain plasticity – the brain’s ability to change based on its experience – although apparently feel as if the positive impacts on the brain from these games do not extend beyond the “training-induced” learning that occurs from these games. Even if this were in fact the only benefit…is this a bad thing?
While I agree wholeheartedly that certain populations are exploited with regard to nearly any service or product on the planet – we are in a capitalistic society, aren’t we? – I also believe that many of the companies getting into the ring in this business are deeply invested in the outcomes their customers achieve.
Broad claims such as improving brain health and reducing cognitive decline may in fact be somewhat misleading as most of these brain games are geared towards a specific cognitive function (e.g. attention, working memory, etc.). On the other hand, for one to improve their ability to hold bits of information in their brain while solving a problem (i.e. working memory), wouldn’t that in fact be an improvement in brain health? You be the judge.
Are Brain Games The End All, Be All?
There are brain games to help working and short term memory, attention, impulsive behavior, reaction time and more. Is it advisable to simply play brain games instead of reading, exercising, practicing stress management or doing other brain healthy activities? The obvious answer to that, and one supported by the open letter, is a resounding NO! Nothing should replace the natural “prevention efforts” that are well documented in the literature to support a healthy brain well into our golden years.
What about those who are unable or unwilling to exercise, read, socialize, or partake in typical brain health activities? Should they refrain from playing brain games due to the lack of evidence claimed in documents such as these? Wouldn’t simply learning a new skill through playing a brain game be beneficial? Even further, for the individual who is at the top of their game, wouldn’t it be prudent for them to practice remembering, attending, and responding more efficiently? Of course it would!
While they are not a complete substitute for the above-mentioned everyday strategies for continued brain health, playing brain games as part of a targeted brain training program for specific brain health challenges and peak performance is not only advisable, it is something we recommend routinely to help individuals reach their maximum potential.
My one final thought, and disagreement, with general condemnations such as these in any area of science is the common caveat offered that more research needs to be done before any conclusions can be made towards the positive. Common sense can, and has, trumped the scientific method throughout history. In many areas, particularly in the brain sciences, it can take decades, if not centuries, for the research to prove what intuition has already told us! Get playing…
About the Author:
Dr. Michael Trayford is a board certified Chiropractic Neurologist and founder of APEX Brain Centers. APEX Brain Centers use cutting edge techniques and technology to optimize brain function. Their program is safe, effective, research-backed and offers hope to people who are having neurological issues. Dr. Michael Trayford and his team offer help for people suffering from concussions, memory loss, Alzheimers and ADD Brain Training at APEX Brain Centers. Learn more about Brain Training at the APEX Brain Centers website.