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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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About SharpBrains

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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