Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

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Brain Fitness Program: How to Evaluate and Choose One

The holidays are approaching and you can expect many software and game developers to advertise their products SharpBrains Checklistaggressively, trying to get you buy their “brain training” products for you or as a gift for a loved one.

The good news is that there are more and more tools we can use to keep mentally stimulated and even train and improve specific cognitive abilities (like processing speed, short-term memory…). You may be reading about Nintendo Brain Age, Posit Science, Fast ForWord, MindFit, Lumosity, Happy Neuron, MyBrainTrainer, emWave, StressEraser and more. And, of course, there are also non-technology based interventions.

The bad news is that it is difficult to separate marketing from scientific claims, and to understand which one, if any, may be a good complement to other healthy lifestyle choices.

To help you navigate this process, we are publishing the SharpBrains Checklist below, based on dozens of interviews with scientists, experts and consumers:

10 Questions to Choose the Right Brain Fitness Program for You (and a brief explanation of why each question is important)

* 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? What specific cognitive skill is the program training?

(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?

(Cognitive training, or “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.)

We hope this information is useful. Feel free to share it!

For more information on each question and printable layouts, see:

SharpBrains Checklist 10 Questions to Choose the Right Brain Fitness Program for You
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SharpBrains Checklist Bookmark 10 Questions to Choose the Right Brain Fitness Program for You (bookmark size)
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For more information, you can check out these posts and articles

Neuroplasticity 101 and Brain Health Glossary: an explanation of the science and key terms

Ten Important Truths About Aging: an overview of the new science for healthy aging and good lifestyle factors

Neuroscience and Psychology Interview Series: in-depth interviews with several neuroscientists, psychologists and experts

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