Here is question eight of 25 from Brain Fitness 101: Answers to Your Top 25 Questions. To download the complete version, please click here.
Why are computer programs better than paper-based ones or simply attending a class in person?
- Paper-based and in-person classes are good and better than not doing anything mentally stimulating.
- Like other recreational activities, classes are hard to control for using various mental muscles and providing increasing challenge and novelty over time.
Taking classes and reading can be great fun and an easy way to learn something new. Learning something new is always good for your brain. It doesn’t even matter so much what you learn as the fact that you are engaging your brain and challenging it.
The trouble with classes is much the same as the trouble with using only recreational games for brain fitness. While they offer many benefits, the actual “workout” can vary dramatically. What if you get a terrible teacher, or the class turns out to be way below your ability – or way above it. Suddenly, what seems like a good idea either doesn’t challenge or doesn’t support you (not understanding something is stressful). Also, no single class can cover all, or even most, of the areas of your cognition. In the end, it will cover an arbitrary, and probably somewhat narrow, set of functions but not other functions.
When you use one of the computer-based programs, there is generally an assessment to determine your current ability and where to start exercising. From there, the computer instantly checks your performance and adjusts the challenge so that you are always pushed just a little bit harder. Hard enough to keep you working, but not so hard that you become frustrated and give up.
Furthermore, the computer-based programs have an almost unlimited capability to exercise the same skills with an endless variety of stimuli. This means you get to practice the skill over time, but in a way that allows it to generalize versus merely becoming good at playing a specific game and nothing else.
By all means, take classes, read, and do engaging things you enjoy. It’s all good for your brain. Just don’t get lulled into thinking you’ve got a complete brain fitness program when you don’t.
You must use your brain in order to improve it, and learning new things using more of your brain than doing the same old thing. So, do take classes and do things that interest you, but look at adding a computerized brain fitness program to ensure you’re getting a complete workout.
- Computer programs we recommend
- Mahncke HW, Connor BB, Appelman J, et al. Memory enhancement in healthy older adults using a brain plasticity-based training program: a randomized, controlled study. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2006;103:12523-8.
- Scarmeas N, Stern Y. Cognitive reserve and lifestyle. J Clin Exp Neuropsychol. 2003;25:625-33.
- Tarraga L, Boada M, Modinos G, et al. A randomised pilot study to assess the efficacy of an interactive, multimedia tool of cognitive stimulation in Alzheimer’s disease. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2006;77:1116-21.