May 9, 2007
By: Alvaro Fernandez
You can use our checklist for guidance on how to navigate through the growing number of brain fitness programs.
Forbes recently published a great article on Top Brain Boosters, by Allison Van Dusen, with good lifestyle advice on lifelong learning, computer programs, social interaction, stress reduction, sleep, exercise and emotional health, and nutrition.
The article also mentions the MindFit and Posit Science programs, and includes our SharpBrains Checklist to help select the right computer-based program.
Why did we develop a Checklist? Well, research shows that Physical Exercise, Good Nutrition, Stress Management and Brain Fitness/Exercise are all four critical pillars for Brain Health. Most people already understand the first 3, but the 4th one, Brain Fitness/Exercise, is often misunderstood or overlooked. We have spent over 18 months interviewing scientists and reviewing available Brain Fitness/Exercise Programs worldwide, and, given the overwhelming amount of programs making “Brain Fitness” claims nowadays, we would like to share the research-based criteria we use to evaluate Brain Fitness/Exercise programs.
The Forbes Top Brain Boosters article asks “How do you know if a pricey brain fitness software program is right for you?”
And offers our checklist:
10 Questions to Choose the Right Brain Fitness Program
* 1. Are there scientists, ideally neuropsychologists, and a scientific advisory board behind the program?
(Neuropsychologists specialize in measuring and understanding human cognition and brain structure and function.)
* 2. Are there published, peer-reviewed scientific papers in PubMed written by those scientists? How many?
(Pubmed is a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine that includes millions of citations science journals. If a scientist has not published a paper that appears in that database, he or she cannot make scientific claims.)
* 3. What are the specific benefits claimed for using this program?
(Some programs present the benefits in such a nebulous way that it is impossible to tell if they will have any results or not…”brain training” itself is a limited benefit, because activities like gardening or learning a new language provide “brain training too”…you need to see something more specific, like what cognitive or emotional skill that program is aimed at)
* 4. Does the program tell me what part of my brain or which cognitive skill I am exercising, and is there an independent assessment to measure my progress?
(The question is whether the improvement experienced in the program will transfer into real life. For that to happen we need assessments that are distinct from the exercises themselves.)
* 5. Is it a structured program with guidance on how many hours per week and days per week to use it?
(Brain exercise is not a magic pill. You have to do the exercises in order to benefit, so you need clarity on the effort required.)
* 6. Do the exercises vary and teach me something new?
(The only way to exercise important parts of our brain is by tackling novel challenges.)
* 7. Does the program challenge and motivate me, or does it feel like it would become easy once I learned it?
(Good brain exercise requires increasing levels of difficulty)
* 8. Does the program fit my personal goals?
(Each individual has different goals/ needs when it comes to brain health. For example, some want to manage anxiety, others to improve short-term memory…)
* 9. Does the program fit my lifestyle?
(Some brain exercise programs have great short-term results but are very intense. Others may be better over time)
* 10. Am I ready and willing to do the program, or would it be too stressful?
(Excess stress reduces, or may even inhibit, neurogenesis-the creation of new neurons-. So, it is important to make sure not to do things that stress us in unhealthy ways.)
Special Offer: For a limited time, you can receive a complimentary copy of our Brain Fitness 101 e-Guide: Answers to your Top 25 Questions, written by Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg and Alvaro Fernandez, by subscribing to our monthly newsletter. You can subscribe Here.
You may also enjoy these related blog posts:
– Neuroplasticity 101 and Brain Fitness Glossary: an overview of the emerging science and some key concepts to understand it.
– Brain Training Games and “Games”: a 10-Question Checklist on how to evaluate programs that make brain-related claims.
– Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychology Interview Series: in-depth interviews with 11 scientists and experts in cognitive training and brain fitness.
– Books on neuroplasticity and memory training: reviews of Train Your Brain, Change Your Mind, by Sharon Begley, and The Brain That Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge. Both books are fascinating and powerful; each would have merited appearing in the 2007 New York Times List of 100 Notable Books.
Finally, this is one on the important topics we cover in our Seminars, so let us know if your organization needs more information.