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Do Brain Games Improve Cognitive Function?

A group of senior men and women are playing a card game together.

Brain games are a proven, scientifically-backed way to improve cognitive function and even get through the early stages of dementia with a stronger memory.

In 2008, The BMJ published a study on the efficacy of brain games. Their meta-analysis of several studies make it clear that brain games can strengthen cognitive functioning. 

According to the findings, after spending an hour training for five days per week over eight to 10 weeks, “participants in the intervention group improved more in the auditory memory score on repeatable battery for the assessment of neuropsychological status test (the primary end point) than did participants in the control group.

Several interventional studies are mentioned across the meta-analysis:

1. One was an IMPACT or plasticity-based adaptive cognitive training study from Posit Science, which had established a Brain Fitness Program. 

In the Brain Fitness Program, 468 participants 65 and up spent 40 hours in computer-based educational training or in the Brain Fitness Program, which is also computer-based. 

IMPACT concluded that 20 to 60 hours of training can benefit older individuals. 

2. Another study mentioned in the BMJ report involved 121 participants, all elderly, partaking in the MindFit training program. Some participants received MindFit training, while others were in a control group.

The control group had a CD computer game they played for 20 minutes a day over three days for a total of 24 sessions. 

According to this study, performed by the Tel-Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, “both groups improved on most outcome measures but that people who used MindFit improved significantly more.”

3. The BMJ also cited an ACTIVE study, which it called the biggest independent trial at the time of its publication. The US National Institute for Nursing Research and the US National Institute on Aging joined together to lead the study. 

The participants in this one included 2,832 adults around 74 years old as a mean.

Since there were so many participants, they were divided into four groups.

One was a control group, the second focused on speed training, the third undertook reasoning training, and the fourth did memory training.

Each group that received training had 10 sessions.

So, what happened? 

According to The BMJ, “…those people who received one of the three training regimens continued to perform significantly better five years later than people who received no training.

Which Games Improve Cognitive Ability?

As studies came out lauding the benefit of brain games for mind health, everyone hopped on the bandwagon, trying to tout their game as the best for cognitive ability. 

The data above proves that many types of brain games can help, but which should you focus on as you try to strengthen your mind? 

Here’s a list.

Wordle

Test your mental might by playing the online game Wordle. This word-based guessing game, created by Josh Wardle, requires you to come up with the right five-letter word. Y

ou can only guess six times, so it’s more difficult than it seems.

Although the first guess is really a stab in the dark to get you started, with each subsequent guess, you receive feedback.

The tiles change colors to let you know which letters you’ve guessed are correct and incorrect. 

Crossword Puzzles

Many newspapers still print crossword puzzles with the Sunday paper, and it’s not only for nostalgia.

Crosswords activate your thinking and memory and sharpen both if you play them often enough. 

Harvard Health cited an NEJM Evidence study that reported that web-based crossword puzzles may reduce brain shrinkage and benefit cognition for those with “mild memory problems” versus playing other types of online cognition games. 

Once you finish your newspaper crossword, go online. You can find a wealth of puzzles at your fingertips. 

Peak

If you have a smartphone or access to the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store, you can get your hands on Peak Brain Training. This app challenges you to a slew of interactive, fun, short games. 

First-time users can select whether they want to improve emotional processing, mental agility, problem-solving, focus, linguistic abilities, or memory.

Then, you will receive personalized games catered to you. 

Braingle

Give Braingle a try the next time you go online. This free website includes more than 15,000 games to stretch the limits of your brain, from trivia to riddles, puzzles, logic problems, and brain teasers. 

Try your hand at Puzzlepedia, optical illusions, teasers like Birth Month or Let The Games Begin, or paper and pencil games. 

Lumosity

Since 2007, Lumosity has worked out brains. You can take a Free Fit Test when you sign up.

Lumosity will send you daily brain workouts with more than 50 types of brain training games designed to improve cognitive ability. 

HAPPYneuron

You can find a slew of fun, challenging games on HAPPYneuron. The content is personalized and adaptive to you, and coaching is even available to help you focus on specific areas of cognition. 

Unlike the other services, HAPPYneuron only has so many free services before you have to upgrade. 

CogniFit

The brain training CogniFit offers games like Words Birds for visual scanning and updating, Happy Hopper for better estimation and response time, and Candy Factory, which challenges your recognition, short-term memory, visual short-term memory, and phonological short-term memory.

While CogniFit has paid services, the brain games are available for free. 

Sudoku 

The classic logic game Sudoku requires you to add digits to a 9×9 grid. It’s not that easy, though, as each row and column must have a digit between 1 and 9 and the number can only be used once with a row or column.

The game will challenge your logic as you toil over these puzzles for hours.

Better yet, you can play Sudoku just about anywhere since it’s caught on in such a major way, including in newspapers and on many websites online for free. 

Do Brain Games Prevent Dementia?

Dementia changes the normal course of cognitive decline, causing it to occur much more rapidly and drastically. Can playing brain games ward off dementia?

Yes, they can.

A 2019 study published in Translational Psychiatry found that computerized cognitive training with attention, language, memory, and reasoning activities can improve the volume of gray matter in the brain, which might help with mild cognitive decline.

The keyword there is mild. 

A 2020 study from Frontiers in Medicine involved participants who spent 16 weeks in cognitive and physical training.

They had much better executive function and working memory after the study concluded than the control group.

Data has even indicated the best types of games to possibly prevent dementia. They are:

  • Virtual reality games for physical and cognitive reinforcement
  • Video games to test reasoning and memory
  • Board games for better emotional regulation, communication, and memory

Games can improve logical reasoning, problem-solving, reaction time, and short-term memory, even in those already diagnosed with dementia in the early and middle stages. 

Bottom Line 

Scientific research supports the effectiveness of brain games in enhancing cognitive abilities and bolstering memory during the golden years, even during the initial phases of dementia.

With so many brain games on the market, you can’t go wrong in choosing and playing them. The different styles allow you to find the right games for you.

Remember that improving your cognition through brain games is not an overnight process. You must commit to regular, sometimes even daily, training, then keep it up.

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