Best Memory-Boosting Games
By Sari Harrar
From leading brain experts: games that boost your memory now - and help keep
you sharp for years to come.
I fear I may be hurtling into the brain-fog years. In a single weekend, I
forget the name of a woman I see regularly at our children's parties, misplace
an important financial document, and have trouble identifying a favorite shrub
that's burst into bloom along my walking route. "Look at
that...oh...um...er...bushy thing...you know...the rhododendron!" I say to
my walking buddy. "You're good," Carol answers. "I wouldn't have
gotten rhododendron. I'd have just called it a rhubarb."
Blame stress. Crazy-busy multitasking. Lack of sleep. But that's not the
whole story. In interviews with a half-dozen researchers, I learn that every
passing birthday brings age-related brain changes that play a growing role in
slowed information processing, memory lapses, and all-around fuzzier
"The decline you're noticing is real — and it starts before age 30,"
says Michael Merzenich, Ph.D., a professor in the Keck Center for Integrative
Neurosciences at the University of California at San Francisco. "A
60-year-old brain takes in information two to three times slower than a
20-year-old brain. As a result, what's stored in memory is two to three times
less clear and detailed. And by age 80, you may be five to eight times slower.
That's a big difference!"
The good news? Old brains can learn new tricks. "We used to think that
with age, brain cells shriveled up, died, and that was that," says Paul
Laurienti, M.D., Ph.D., a brain researcher at Wake Forest University School of
Medicine. "Now we know that even older brains can grow new, stronger
In a 2007 study that scanned the brains of 23 elderly people, Dr. Laurienti
found that those who'd gone through a brain-training program were better able
to focus — a plus because aging brains become more distractible. Growing
evidence suggests that a lifetime spent using your noodle — in your day job as
an astrophysicist or mom, or after hours playing Monopoly, tooting the clarinet
in your local chamber group, or doing crossword puzzles — may build extra brain
connections (a kind of mental savings account called cognitive reserve) and
slow the symptoms of dementia.
Banking on this research, dozens of brain-training books, computer games,
and Websites have hit the market — all promising to make your brain friskier
and maybe even ward off big mental threats like Alzheimer's. Do these programs
work? The jury's still out, though company-sponsored studies suggest they
There are two key requirements: You must do the exercises consistently. And
they shouldn't be too easy. "Brain training is analogous to physical
workouts," says brain researcher Sherry L. Willis, Ph.D., a professor in
the department of Human Development and Family Studies at Pennsylvania State
University. "You have to cross train — work different parts of your brain
and keep adding new challenges."
In an unscientific experiment, I test-drove five top-selling brain boosters
to see which ones I could stick with for the months — or years — the
researchers say are necessary to preserve and improve brainpower. My criteria:
Was there science to back a product's claims? Was the program challenging
enough to hold my interest? Fun enough to make me want to play it again and
again? Here's what I found.