I love the idea of being able to play games to make me smarter. I’ve tried a number of different apps and for a while was completely hooked on Sudoku. My all-time favorite, though, was a game on CD-ROM I bought for my students in the late 90s but that I ended up playing from beginning to end myself: The Lost Mind of Dr. Brain. I loved that game.
I’ve focused on the use of games like these for developing memory and critical thinking skills, for possible connections to learning. But more recently I’ve had new incentive. My mom was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s a year and a half ago. Her mother had it as well, and I vividly remember my mom trying various things to reduce her own risk: cutting back on consumption of aluminum by quitting drinking soda in cans and switching to “natural” deodorant (neither of which lasted long) and primarily by playing Scrabble on her computer, which, despite being something of a computer-phobe, she did frequently until she somehow managed to completely reset her computer to factory settings. I don’t think she’s touched a computer since.
I don’t drink soda, and I recently got a recipe for homemade, aluminum-free deodorant that I’ll be trying, but otherwise my hopes have been pinned on living a more active lifestyle, eating more healthfully, and – yes – playing games that I hope will strengthen my brain.
So when I stumbled across an article in an issue of Scientific American Mind titled “Do Brain Training Games Work?” (by Simon Makin, July 2015 issue) I read with great interest.
Basically, there is no solid evidence that brain training games have any long-term impact or useful application to real-life tasks.
There was one notable exception: the article indicated that there may be some evidence that certain games may positively increase the ability to focus for those with ADHD, apparently because the games themselves give the students practice at focusing and keeping their eyes on the task at hand.
For the most part, though, the games can be a fun way to pass some time, but – at least for now – aren’t likely to lead to significant cognitive improvements.
We do know that learning new skills, such as a foreign language or to play a musical instrument, do have long-term benefits for our brains, as does physical activity. So for this fall, I’ll put the games away and stick with these goals: learning to do a yoga handstand and learning to knit.