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50+: Live Better, Longer

Best Memory-Boosting Games

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Happy Neuron continued...

Play-by-play: An online coach nudges me toward games that work weaker skills. For example, after viewing the medieval shield, I have to play a language game — alphabetizing a long list of words — before I get to choose the right colors, shapes, and designs to reconstruct the shield. Other games are surprisingly difficult: I can't match every animal sound with the correct photo in the deceptively cute Squeaking Mouse. (Who knew porcupines and lemurs sounded so much alike?)

Score: * * * 1/2

While I love the mix of games and the customized program that tracks my performance, I find the exercises frustrating, especially at the beginning. But someone who really likes computer games might enjoy these colorful, varied exercises.

Cost: Online subscription: $10 per month or $100 per year; free trial available (happy-neuron.com)

MindFit

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 several months.

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)

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