The main message behind the discovery of brain plasticity is that the way we live our life can affect how well our brain age. This is great news. However there is no just one general solution to brain maintenance. Science suggests so far to take a multi-pronged approach centered around balanced nutrition, stress management, and both physical and mental exercise.
Brain training, defined as the structured use of cognitive exercises or techniques aimed at improving specific brain functions, can be delivered in a number of ways: meditation, cognitive therapy, cognitive training. The field is still emerging and many more controlled and randomized studies are needed to (a) assess individuals’ cognitive profiles easily, (b) validate the effects of different brain training programs, (c) compare different types of brain trainings, (d) assess the appropriateness of certain types of brain trainings for certain specific populations.
One crucial aspect of brain training that needs much improvement is the baseline cognitive screening. Tools that allow the user to assess his or her brain functions before the training starts are necessary for sound brain training.Â They would allow the consumer or patient to target the specific brain functions that do need training.
Does brain training work? It depends how “work” is defined. If it is defined as quantifiable short-term improvements after a number of weeks of systematic brain training to improve specific cognitive skills, then yes. A number of the brain fitness software programs on the market today do seem to work. If, on the other hand, “working” means measurable long-term benefits, such as better overall brain health as we age, or lower incidence of dementia symptoms, then the answer is that circumstantial evidence suggests they may work. But it is still too early to tell definitively.
Brain training is becoming more and more popular and may play an increasing role in our everyday life in future years. It is easy to get lost in the increasing number of products available. This is why staying informed is crucial! Consumers need to learn how to evaluate their cognitive needs and how to find the right product to match their need. Our hope is to be able to help you along the way.
This new online resource is based on the content from the book The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness (May 2009, $19.95), by Alvaro Fernandez and Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg.