Questions Arise About Potential of “Brain-Training” to Improve Function, Well-Being

While it’s a popular and commonly-held idea that the brain grows stronger and people become more knowledgeable and mentally apt as they age, the facts of brain biology can be harsh. Into one’s 30’s, mental decline has likely already begun to take place, with some indications that the process can start as early as the end of one’s second decade. People approaching middle age may find that their memory seems to fail them from time to time, or they might experience a decrease in the ability to focus or to approach a given subject with sharpness and efficiency. In tandem with these unwanted aspects of aging, many mental health professionals an people in general are growing increasingly concerned about the prevalence of dementia and other mental health issues that can take root during and after the transition into old age. A relatively new response to these concerns has been the creation of “brain training” games and activities, which often report the ability to “exercise” the brain as though it were a muscle, purportedly making it stronger.

However, those with insight into the fields of medical biology and cognitive science note that the brain is not all that similar to a muscle, and while it may be tested and bolstered by some kinds of use, simple “reps” of baseline mental exercises aren’t likely to do much more than entertain. However, it may be the case that some brain training games and activities approach concepts and ways of thinking that a given mind has not yet encountered, and in such new situations, the brain may be able to experience gains in agility and readiness.

While a survey of popular games and exercises has failed to produce a miracle cure for dementia or an instant memory retrieval system, advances in mental health and cognitive science may make it possible for some people to train themselves towards meaningful mental upkeep as they grow old.

© Copyright 2009 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Allen

    Allen

    September 25th, 2009 at 10:31 AM

    This is strange… Because a lot of us have always believed that solving puzzles and other tickle-your-brain activities actually provide exercise for our brain. I just hope practices are not blindly followed without proper study-related proof in the future.

  • patricia bucknall

    patricia bucknall

    September 25th, 2009 at 11:21 AM

    is there anyone intrested out there in useing new sencory playroom that can be used for one-one work/therapy.

  • Bryan

    Bryan

    September 25th, 2009 at 7:24 PM

    I cant begin to dismiss sudoku or chess as unfruitful. I do know that these things improves the speed at which one’s brain processes information. I wonder whether memory building is about information assimilation. In that case it would definitely be worthless in my opinion.

  • Brain Training Advocate

    Brain Training Advocate

    September 26th, 2009 at 10:59 AM

    While it’s generally true that most puzzles and brain training exercises don’t produce the kinds of mental gains that people might hope for, there is one exercise that has been proven by research to produce significant benefits.

    A study last year by researchers from the Universities of Michigan and Bern (Improving Fluid Intelligence by Training Working Memory – PNAS April 2008) recorded increases in mental agility (fluid intelligence) of more than 40% after 19 days of focused brain training.

  • Debbie

    Debbie

    October 1st, 2009 at 6:54 AM

    What exactly is fluid intelligence? How do they measure this?

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