Here is question nine of 25 from Brain Fitness 101: Answers to Your Top 25 Questions. To download the complete version, please click here.
How do I know if computer-based brain fitness programs work?
- Research the product and the names involved with the product to see what has been published.
- Look for articles in high caliber, peer-reviewed journals.
- Ask for referrals.
- Assessments done before you begin and then after your training allow you to track your performance.
- Observe yourself. How do you feel after doing the training? Do you feel sharper?
Always ask the questions:
What does the specific program look like? How many hours for how many weeks will it take to accomplish what goals? Some programs leave it so open-ended that it is unclear how users are supposed to get what benefits. The program should be clear and easy to follow with a clear sense of where you are headed and how you are getting there.
Who designed the program? What are their credentials? Look for the scientists, universities, and/or hospitals behind the program. A good software program will have many people involved, and particularly some scientists or physicians to be sure it works.
Has the program been tested in rigorous scientific studies? Peer-reviewed academic journals have a lengthy system involved to try to ensure studies are done ethically and are valid. Use a search engine like PubMed to find the names of the scientists behind the program.
Do any benefits transfer to real life and to our cognitive abilities? Effective brain fitness programs transfer into an expanded “mental muscle” or cognitive ability that will help you in real-life challenges beyond the specific game you learned.
Do existing users recommend it? Some programs are more user-friendly than others. Given that we are talking about fitness programs, not medical interventions, the programs must place reasonable demands for you to complete, otherwise you simply may not finish it and not reap the benefits.
Do you notice an improvement in yourself after using it? If in doubt, try it and see for yourself. Do you feel sharper and more mentally fit since trying the software? If you are following the guidelines, you should be able to notice a difference in your abilities.
- 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.
- Willis SL, Tennstedt SL, Marsiske M, et al. Long-term effects of cognitive training on everyday functional outcomes in older adults. JAMA. 2006;296:2805-14.