Skip to content
    WebMD Special Report
    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Playing Computer Games to Boost Aging Brains

    By Sonya Collins
    WebMD Health News

    Dec. 11, 2014 -- For more than 2 years, Jeanne Roach found a seat at an open computer terminal in the e-café at the Villa Gardens retirement community in Pasadena, CA, and she did a “20-minute circuit workout” for her brain.

    “You look at a series of pictures, then the pictures are removed, and you’re asked, ‘In which picture were the men wearing hats?’” says Roach, 88, a retired human resources specialist. “There are math problems – what we used to call ‘story problems’ when I was growing up. I happened to do pretty well with the word games, but not well with the math.”

    The challenges, according to game-maker Dakim BrainFitness, are meant to exercise six mental skills: long-term memory, short-term memory, language, computation, critical thinking, and the perception of spatial relationships between objects (called visuospatial ability).

    Dakim is one program in the estimated billion-dollar-plus industry known as computer-based brain training. Lumosity, perhaps the best known in the industry, boasts 50 million users. Some play for free. Others buy unlimited monthly or annual access for $15 per month or $60 per year. Lumosity and its many competitors promise to preserve or improve memory, among other mental skills, and prevent or delay mental decline and even dementia.

    But can a video game deliver all of that?

    Probably not yet, says Sandra Chapman, PhD. She's chief director of The Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas. Brain-training games are popular for the same reason as diet pills, she suspects. They seem like a quick fix.

    Computer-Based Training Vs. Other Activities

    While research shows that people who play the games get better at them -- and may even stay better at them long after they stop practicing -- it’s harder to tell whether gamers function better in other aspects of life.

    One study followed nearly 3,000 elderly adults for 10 years. Those who completed computer-based cognitive training reported less trouble carrying out the activities of everyday living than those who didn't. But, critics argue, it’s common for study participants to think a treatment helped them whether it did or not. Roach felt that way, too.

    From the Experts

    Brain Training Expert Rebok
    Second Opinion
    Hansa Bhagrava
    Second Opinion
     

    Brain Training Poll

    Have you tried any brain training programs or games?

    View Results