To help consumers and professionals navigate through the growing number of programs and apps making “brain fitness” or “brain training” claims, we offer this SharpBrains Checklist, sourced from The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness.
10 Questions to Evaluate Brain Fitness Programs — 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 enhancing.
* 4. Does the program tell me what cognitive or emotional 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 training, 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 mental exercise requires increasing levels of difficulty.
* 8. Does the program fit my personal goals?
Each individual has different goals and 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 training programs have good 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.
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