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Cracking Down on 'Brain-Training' Games

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For anyone who has lost his or her keys and feared cognitive decline, online brain training offers a fun solution: Play games on your electronic device and stave off dementia. But can these games actually improve cognitive function and memory? The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says no, and itís taking steps to stop game companies from marketing these unfounded claims.

In January, the FTC settled charges of deceptive advertising with Luma Labs, the makers of the online brain-training website Lumosity, which will refund $2 million to its subscribers. The investigation is part of a larger effort to protect consumers from misleading health advertising.

According to a December article in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (JAGS), studies have shown that improvement in game playing doesnít translate to real-life benefits, and the typical time spent training isnít enough cognitive exertion to prevent or delay dementia.

In addition, the JAGS authors noted that time spent playing such games is time not spent doing activities that actually provide health benefits, such as exercising or enjoying time with friends. The authors were concerned that people with dementia would blame themselves for failing to enroll in a brain exercise program that might have forestalled or prevented cognitive decline, further stigmatizing and traumatizing those affected. Other people might be led to believe that cognitive performance would improve with a program.

To stay sharp, concentrate instead on making lifestyle changes, such as exercising regularly and eating a heart-healthy diet emphasizing vegetables and whole grains, and staying connected socially.†

Posted in Memory on April 18, 2016

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While the popular Brain Training games (such as Lumosity) may lack evidence of beneficial effects on the brain and memory, one game (Dual N-Back) does have evidence of its effectiveness in enhancing fluid intelligence and working memory, effects that are transferable to situations unrelated to the game itself (unlike the other brain games which are specific for the game trained).

The website for the Dual N-Back game (entirely free to download and without ads) is brainworkshop dot net (the spam filter prevents me from posting the actual link). There they have a link to studies (one of which is in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America from 2008) which validates the effectiveness of this training.

It's not the most enjoyable game to play, but it is challenging and not a waste of time, as the commercial products appear to be.

Posted by: DenisBH | April 18, 2016 11:47 AM

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