Best Memory-Boosting Games
The game: Developed by Israeli psychologist Shlomo Breznitz, Ph.D., MindFit
is designed to boost cognitive skills, including short-term memory, reaction
times, recall, and eye-hand coordination. The program measures my abilities in
three extensive evaluation sessions, presents games based on my needs, then
monitors my performance and adjusts the difficulty level accordingly. Suggested
playtime: 24 sessions to be played for 20 minutes three times a week over
The claim: This "brain gym" trains 14 mental abilities, boosting
cognitive reserve and preventing age-related mental decline.
The evidence: In a company-sponsored study of 121 women and men ages 50 and
up, those who played MindFit three times a week for three months had
"greater improvement in the cognitive domains of spatial short-term memory,
visual-spatial learning, and focused attention" than study volunteers who
played ordinary computer games.
Play-by-play: The evaluation sessions are real work: For example, I use my
mouse to follow a little ball through a maze, estimate the length of time an
image is displayed on a tiny TV screen, and choose the larger of two numbers
that appear in distractingly tiny or huge boxes.
Score: * * 1/2
I like the audio instructions and the fact that the program is
custom-tailored to my needs. But I'm not engaged by the tasks — guessing the
correct order of little shuttered windows that open and close is boring, even
when I miss a few. I don't think I'd stick with this one.
Cost: $149 for a CD (vigorousmind.com)
The game: Load the wildly popular Brain Age into a Nintendo DS (if you can
yank the console away from your kid!), and you'll find a series of math games,
literature excerpts to read aloud, and a classic brain twister: saying the
color of letters on-screen, even if they spell the name of a different color.
The most portable and multimedia-driven of the computerized games I tested,
Brain Age uses voice recognition and allows you to write math answers directly
on the touch pad with a special stylus.
The claim: Daily practice can lower your personal Brain Age, which is
determined by a pretest that places you somewhere between 20 and 80.
The evidence: Brain Age was inspired by the work of Japanese neuroscientist
Ryuta Kawashima, M.D., whose research has shown that reading aloud and doing
math problems may help activate the brain's prefrontal cortex. Dubbed "your
brain's control tower" by Nintendo, this region is the foundation of
creativity, communication, memory, and self-control.
Play-by-play: I appreciate the freedom to use Brain Age anywhere. And it's
fun seeing my speed assessed on a graphic scale ranging from "walking"
to "rocket ship." I like the multimedia aspect, too. But the software
sometimes falters. During a timed test, the voice-recognition system repeatedly
misunderstands the word "blue": It keeps giving me instructions on how
to speak more clearly, forcing me to start over several times and thus wrecking
my score. And the device often misinterprets my scribbled answers to math
questions. Such delays and misunderstandings lead the program to place my
personal brain age at a geezerly 66 years (ouch!). And a game that requires me
to memorize 30 words, then write them down, seems like all work, no play.