I was driving home from the Lebanese restaurant in town when I heard a commercial for a new brain training program. It made some lofty claims about improving your memory, alertness, and maximizing your brain’s potential. It got me thinking. Do they really work? There’s an industry growing up around this concept of improving or maintaining your brain as you age. So I had to ask, what exactly does the science say?
In October, a number of reputable scientists in the field—including several accomplished researchers from Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, and Wayne State University—came together to conduct a thorough review of the best current research on brain training. They looked at the claims made and how they lined up with the research:
In summary: We object to the claim that brain games offer consumers a scientifically grounded avenue to reduce or reverse cognitive decline when there is no compelling scientific evidence to date that they do. The promise of a magic bullet detracts from the best evidence to date, which is that cognitive health in old age reflects the long-term effects of healthy, engaged lifestyles. In the judgment of the signatories, exaggerated and misleading claims exploit the anxiety of older adults about impending cognitive decline. We encourage continued careful research and validation in this field.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement. The scientific research does not back up the claims made by brain training programs. Of course, that is not to say there are no ways to help expand or maintain brain function. It’s just that like most things, it’s more nuanced and drawn out. Like losing weight. There are no quick fixes. For example, recent research suggests that learning a second language improves general intelligence and brain health as you age. And bouts of exercise will improve your memory.
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