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.Â When evaluating a software program we recommend asking the following 10 questions:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Do the exercises vary and teach me something new? The only way to exercise important parts of our brain is by tackling novel challenges.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.