Can you train your brain to improve its performance? That’s the promise of an ever-increasing number of games and apps that are gaining in popularity. These games say that they train your brain much the way physical exercise trains the body, making it stronger and better at its job. But when they come under scientific scrutiny, they don’t always work.
The most well known brain training service is probably Lumosity, which offers a variety of video games designed to train specific cognitive functions. Other brain games are available as one-off apps, or even involve a membership to a brain “gym,” where you come in after work to play specialized games with a coach at your side.
Brian games are marketed to many different groups: school kids, senior citizens and, of course, patients with traumatic brain injuries. For that last group, they offer a significant ray of hope. Nothing is more tantalizing than the idea of getting back more of your lost cognitive function, or speeding up the results of therapy. But you need to be very careful in understanding the claims these brain games make, and how they supposedly work.
Most brain games focus on developing one crucial brain trait: working memory. Working memory is the ability to keep information “front of mind,” particularly when dealing with distractions (or stress). It’s crucial to just about any orchestrated cognitive or physical activity we need to carry out, and it’s particularly elusive for survivors of traumatic brain injuries.
The games generally present you with a scenario where you have to use working memory to succeed. It will start out easy, then ramp up until it requires more and more working memory. Since the games are fun, and offer instant rewards for success, you find yourself swept up in constantly improving your score. With that score, theoretically, your working memory is beefing up, too.
More complex brain training programs use a variety of games to train other cognitive traits, from verbal memory or visual memory to reaction time and concentration. The goal for all of these games is the same: to build up these abilities so that they’re stronger not just in the game, but in everyday life.
That is where many of them fail.
The Problems with Brain Games
Depending on who you ask, brain games are either very scientific or totally bogus. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Studies funded mainly by the industry have had positive results. They show that these games can boost cognitive control and working memory, among other traits.
However, these studies are balanced by many others that show no results, or mixed results. Taken as a whole, the research suggests that brain games do have a positive impact, but it’s not generalizable. Getting better at playing the games will not make you better at doing your job.
That doesn’t mean totally worthless. A lot more research needs to be done to evaluate these games, but if you’re comfortable with getting very narrow results, they may be worth it. A brain injury survivor with impaired verbal skills, for example, might find some benefit from a game that specifically trains verbal memory.
But a better option would be awareness meditation, which has proven benefits to working memory, focus and cognitive flexibility,
as well as numerous health benefits. And it doesn’t require an expensive app or gym membership.
It’s also worth remembering that physical exercise increases blood flow to the brain, and is perhaps the single best thing you can do for your long-term health.
Have you or a loved one suffered from a brain injury because of an accident? You deserve compensation to help you get the therapy and rehabilitation you need. The Enrst Law Group can help. Contact us and get a free consultation today.