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    50+: Live Better, Longer

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    Best Memory-Boosting Games

    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 (


    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 (

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