Brain Games "Not A Panacea" For Preventing Dementia, Says Neurologist

While computerized brain games are often advertised as a way of keeping your mind sharp and to avoid cognitive decline (especially in older adults), the evidence that they have any real benefit is sadly lacking.  According to a recent consensus statement by members of the Stanford Center on Longevity and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, "“there is no compelling scientific evidence to date” that brain games actually reduce or reverse cognitive decline.   The statement, which has been signed by many of the leading experts in how the brain works, also warned that "“exaggerated and misleading claims exploit the anxiety of older adults about impending decline.”   

Brain games typically involve working on a computer to complete certain cognitive tasks.   Along with versions that are completely online, many of the hundreds of commercial brain training programs being offered now can be purchased separately or even downloaded as mobile apps for use on smartphones or tablets.   Though developers admit that the actual research supporting the use of brain training is mixed concerning their value, they often insist that regular use can improve working memory, concentration, and other cognitive skills that tend to decline as we grow older.  With more and more people reaching retirement age and worrying about developing dementia, it's hardly surprising that brain training programs are so popular these days.

According to Dr. Xabier Beristain, a Loyola University neurologist who treats dementia patients,  brain training is "not a panacea" and there is little evidence that it will actually enhance cognitive skills in older adults.   The best evidence suggests that level of education, staying socially active, learning  new skills, and regular exercises are more effective ways of staying mentally active as people grow older.   While brain games may make people more skilled at those tasks that are part of the games themselves, there is no indication that this can generalize to broader cognitive skills such as problem-solving.  

Though staying mentally and physically active can be a challenge for older adults who might prefer to find a simpler alternative, there is no "quick fix" that can eliminate the need to stay active.   As the Stanford consensus statement says in conclusion:

"Do not expect that cognitively challenging activities will work like one-shot treatments or vaccines; there is little evidence that you can do something once (or even for a concentrated period) and be inoculated against the effects of aging in an enduring way. In all likelihood, gains won’t last long after you stop the challenge"



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