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50+: Live Better, Longer

Best Memory-Boosting Games

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Brain Age

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.

Score: * * 1/2

If you love video games, this might be the program for you. But I grew tired of the tinny music and the cartoony revolving head (that of Dr. Kawashima). Then again, Brain Age may not be aimed at my demographic: A 19-year-old computer-science student and a 38-year-old neuroscientist both raved about it.

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