Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Does cognitive training work? (For Whom? For What?)

The grow­ing field of cog­ni­tive train­ing (one of the tools for brain fit­ness) can appear very con­fus­ing as the media keeps report­ing con­tra­dic­tory claims. These claims are often based on press releases, with­out a deeper eval­u­a­tion of the sci­en­tific evidence.

Let’s take a cou­ple of recent exam­ples, in suc­ces­sive days:

It doesn’t work!” type of head­line:
Reuters (Feb. 10, 2009)  For­mal brain exer­cise won’t help healthy seniors: research
Healthy older peo­ple shouldn’t bother spend­ing money on com­puter games and web­sites promis­ing to ward off men­tal decline, the author of a review of sci­en­tific evi­dence for the ben­e­fits of these “brain exer­cise” pro­grams says.

It works! type of head­line:
Sci­enceDaily (Feb. 11, 2009)  “Com­puter Exer­cises Improve Mem­ory And Atten­tion, Study Sug­gests“
Accord­ing to the researchers, par­tic­i­pants who used the Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram also scored as well as those ten years younger, on aver­age, on mem­ory and atten­tion tests for which they did not train.

So, does struc­tured brain exer­cise / cog­ni­tive train­ing work or not?

The prob­lem may in fact reside in ask­ing this very ques­tion in the first place, as Alvaro pointed out a while ago in his arti­cle Alzheimer’s Dis­ease: too seri­ous to play with head­lines.

We need a more nuanced set of questions.

Why? Because:
1. Cog­ni­tion is made of sev­eral dif­fer­ent abil­i­ties (work­ing mem­ory, atten­tion, exec­u­tive func­tions such as decision-making, etc)
2. Avail­able train­ing pro­grams do not all train the same abil­i­ties
3. Users of train­ing pro­grams do not all have the same needs or goals
4. We need to dif­fer­en­ti­ate between enhanc­ing cog­ni­tive func­tions and delay­ing the onset of cog­ni­tive deficits such as Alzheimer’s.

Let’s illus­trate these points, by Read the rest of this entry »


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