10-Question Checklist to evaluate products making brain fitness and cognitive health claims


Eval­u­at­ing the use­ful­ness of com­put­er-based brain fit­ness pro­grams depends on many fac­tors such as the goals, pri­or­i­ties, start­ing point, bud­get, etc of the intend­ed user. There is no gen­er­al rank­ing of prod­ucts that would sat­is­fy every­body. This is why we have devel­oped a Brain Fit­ness Soft­ware Eval­u­a­tion Checklist.  When eval­u­at­ing a soft­ware pro­gram we rec­om­mend ask­ing the fol­low­ing 10 questions:

  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 main­stream sci­en­tif­ic and pro­fes­sion­al jour­nals writ­ten by those sci­en­tists? How many? This is impor­tant to val­i­date the effec­tive­ness of a par­tic­u­lar program.
  3. Does the pro­gram tell me what part of my brain or which cog­ni­tive skill I am exer­cis­ing? What are the spe­cif­ic ben­e­fits claimed for using this pro­gram? Some pro­grams present the ben­e­fits in such an impre­cise way that it is impos­si­ble to tell if they will have any results or not…“brain exer­cise” itself is a very vague claim, because activ­i­ties like gar­den­ing or learn­ing a new lan­guage pro­vide brain exer­cise too. You need to see some­thing more spe­cif­ic, like what cog­ni­tive or emo­tion­al skill that pro­gram is aimed at.
  4. Is there an inde­pen­dent assess­ment to mea­sure my progress? The ques­tion is whether the improve­ment expe­ri­enced in the pro­gram will trans­fer into real life. To know if such trans­fer hap­pened 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? 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 and challenge.
  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 shown good short-term results in research envi­ron­ments but are very intense. Oth­ers may be more appro­pri­ate for use 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.

Keep learn­ing by read­ing more arti­cles in the Resources sec­tion, and also please con­sid­er join­ing our free month­ly Brain Fit­ness eNewsletter

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.

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