Description, highlights and validation of 21 brain training products

zThe first ques­tion to ask as a con­sumer or pro­fes­sion­al is, What are my goals or the goal of my client or loved-one? To help you choose prod­ucts based on your answers to that ques­tion we have cat­e­go­rized brain train­ing soft­ware based on their pur­pose: over­all brain main­te­nance, tar­get­ed improve­ment in one spe­cif­ic cog­ni­tive domain, and stress man­age­ment. Note that the prod­ucts are sim­ply list­ed by alpha­bet­i­cal order in each table – we have resist­ed the temp­ta­tion to rank them because we would be mix­ing apples with oranges.

If you want to see the lev­el of clin­i­cal val­i­da­tion of each prod­uct (as of March 2009), please sub­scribe to free month­ly Brain Fit­ness eNewslet­ter or order the book The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness.

Top  over­all brain main­te­nance products

The goal of these prod­ucts is to pro­vide whole brain stim­u­la­tion. They include a vari­ety of exer­cis­es tar­get­ing dif­fer­ent types of cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties includ­ing mem­o­ry, atten­tion, lan­guage skills, visu­al skills and reasoning.

They rep­re­sent an evo­lu­tion of the clas­sic paper-based options such as cross­words puz­zles, word search and Sudoku. They may be more effec­tive than their paper-based cousins for sev­er­al rea­sons: (a) they present more nov­el­ty, (b) they are more var­ied, © they are usu­al­ly more chal­leng­ing and (d) they can be tai­lored to the user’s performance.

  • Brain Age:  The hand­held devise pro­vides good fun at low cost. It is a wor­thy prod­uct for any­one who is not spend­ing hours in oth­er type of videogames, and for whom the alter­na­tive would be doing more cross­word puz­zles or sudoku.  Nin­ten­do is not con­duct­ing any research and does not claim any sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly proven effects of using the game. Rather, the pro­gram announces to users that it was “inspired by” Dr. Kawashima’s publications.
  • Brain­Ware Safari:  This pro­gram is designed to train 41 cog­ni­tive skills among kids aged 6–12 in a mul­ti­me­dia gam­ing for­mat. A small pilot study has shown promis­ing results.
  • The games were designed with the input from neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist Dr. Paul Nuss­baum. The sub­scrip­tion gives access to tools for con­tin­ued moti­va­tion and engage­ment, such as com­pe­ti­tions, col­lab­o­ra­tive games, and fre­quent feed­back. This prod­uct may con­sti­tute a good alter­na­tive to main­stream casu­al games.
  •  Sci­en­tif­ic Brain Train­ing (SBT)’s sci­en­tif­ic advi­so­ry board is led by Dr. Bernard Croisile. SBT has agree­ments with AARP, and oth­ers to pow­er their Brain Games sec­tion, so you can check them out there for free. In addi­tion to the on-line games, sev­er­al CD-Rom based games are offered.  This prod­uct includes the largest vari­ety of games (35), includ­ing 5 ready for the Nin­ten­do Wii.
  •  Lumos Labs’ sci­en­tif­ic advi­so­ry board is com­posed by researchers at top universities.  Their web­site presents an engag­ing online expe­ri­ence. It may pro­vide a good val­ue-per-dol­lar for any­one with high-speed Inter­net access and a gen­er­al “men­tal sharp­en­ing” goal. The only clin­i­cal val­i­da­tion con­sists in a small, unpub­lished tri­al that was pre­sent­ed at the Soci­ety for Neu­ro­science Con­fer­ence in 2006. The com­pa­ny is cur­rent­ly focus­ing its research on the effect on cog­ni­tive reha­bil­i­ta­tion fol­low­ing chemotherapy.
  • Mind­Fit:  This is the only soft­ware with an embed­ded stand-alone and com­pre­hen­sive assess­ment of 14 dif­fer­ent cog­ni­tive skills, used to tai­lor the pro­gram to the user’s needs. Clin­i­cal val­i­da­tion is ongo­ing: sev­er­al stud­ies have been con­duct­ed but none have been pub­lished so far. One study was pre­sent­ed at a 2007 Alzheimer’s Con­fer­ence in Salzburg, Austria.  This prod­uct was endorsed by Dr. Susan Green­field, Direc­tor of the Roy­al Insti­tu­tion in the UK, and is the co-win­ner of the 2007 Amer­i­can Soci­ety on Aging’s Busi­ness and Aging Award.
  • (m)Power:  Dakim’s sci­en­tif­ic advi­so­ry board is led by Dr. Gary Small.  This prod­uct is spe­cial­ly designed for retire­ment com­mu­ni­ties and peo­ple not famil­iar­ized with com­put­ers. It includes a touch-screen sys­tem and the con­tent is fun.

Top tar­get­ed brain work­out products

In con­trast to whole brain stim­u­la­tion prod­ucts, these prod­ucts focus their efforts on spe­cif­ic cog­ni­tive domain such as audi­to­ry pro­cess­ing, work­ing mem­o­ry or visu­al pro­cess­ing. The goal of all the exer­cis­es in each prod­uct is to boost per­for­mance in the cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties that are tar­get­ed by the prod­uct, and close­ly relat­ed ones.

  • Brain Fit­ness Clas­sic by Posit Sci­ence:  This prod­uct is best for adults over 60 who feel it takes them longer to fol­low con­ver­sa­tions, espe­cial­ly in noisy envi­ron­ments. It is avail­able both for PC and Mac. It is very demand­ing. Posit Science’s sci­en­tif­ic advi­so­ry board is led by Dr. Michael Merzenich. In 2006, Dr. Merzenich and col­leagues pub­lished a ran­dom­ized con­trolled tri­al using the clas­sic pro­gram in the Pro­ceed­ings of the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences (PNAS). Fur­ther research is under way with the IMPACT study: the ini­tial (yet unpub­lished) results are promis­ing. Mul­ti­ple unpub­lished stud­ies are look­ing at a vari­ety of appli­ca­tions, from healthy aging to neu­ro­log­i­cal side effects of chemother­a­py, Mild Cog­ni­tive Impair­ment, HIV-relat­ed, schiz­o­phre­nia. The clas­sic Posit Sci­ence pro­gram is the co-win­ner of the 2007 Amer­i­can Soci­ety on Aging’s Busi­ness and Aging Award. It is fea­tured on PBS spe­cials on Brain Fit­ness & Neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty and in sev­er­al recent books.
  • Cogmed Work­ing Mem­o­ry Train­ing:  This prod­uct is typ­i­cal­ly used in clin­i­cal set­tings to help peo­ple with atten­tion deficits or indi­vid­u­als under­go­ing neu­ropsy­cho­log­i­cal reha­bil­i­ta­tion. How­ev­er, it has not been yet cleared by FDA for any ther­a­peu­tic appli­ca­tion. Cogmed was found­ed by Dr. Torkel Kling­berg. There are sev­er­al clin­i­cal tri­als under way by inde­pen­dent researchers. Dr. Kling­berg pub­lished a ran­dom­ized con­trolled tri­al with chil­dren with atten­tion deficits in the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Acad­e­my of Child and Ado­les­cent Psy­chi­a­try (2005), and sev­er­al relat­ed stud­ies in a vari­ety of respect­ed journals.
  • Dri­ve­Fit (Gold­en Dri­ve­Fit): This prod­uct is best for old­er adults who want to improve dri­ving-relat­ed cog­ni­tive skills,Clinical val­i­da­tion is low. Nonethe­less, with the British School of Motor­ing, Dri­ve­Fit won the pres­ti­gious Prince Michael Road Safe­ty Award for a sim­i­lar prod­uct focused on teenagers.
  • Earo­bics: This prod­uct is best to help stu­dents in pre‑K through third grade devel­op ear­ly lit­er­a­cy skills. The What Works Clear­ing­house, main­tained by the US Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion, con­sid­ers the extent of evi­dence for Earo­bics to be small for both alpha­bet­ics and fluency.
  • Fast­For­word:  Fast For­word has been shown to be an effec­tive inter­ven­tion for dyslex­ic stu­dents who strug­gle with the spe­cif­ic cog­ni­tive skills that the pro­gram trains (audi­to­ry and phono­log­i­cal skills). Accord­ing to the What Works Clear­ing­house data­base, main­tained by the Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion, the fit may be less clear for stu­dents who are not dyslexic.  The soft­ware is very demand­ing and usu­al­ly requires par­ents’ or school super­vi­sion for compliance.
  • InSight:  This prod­uct is best for adults over 50 who notice loss of con­cen­tra­tion and atten­tion abil­i­ties while doing com­plex tasks, such as driving.  One of the five exer­cis­es includ­ed in the pro­gram, the UFOV (Use­ful Field of View) exer­cise, is based on many pre­vi­ous sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies (See inter­view with Dr. Eliz­a­beth Zelin­s­ki in Chap­ter 2). The oth­er four exer­cis­es have not been test­ed before.
  • Intel­li­Gym:  This prod­uct is best for com­mit­ted play­ers and teams. It should be con­sid­ered as a seri­ous work­out, not a game.  Dr. Daniel Gopher acts as an advi­sor to Applied Cog­ni­tive Engi­neer­ing. Intel­li­Gym is used by pres­ti­gious NCAA bas­ket­ball teams, such as Ken­tucky, Mem­phis, Flori­da, Kansas.
  • Vision Restora­tion Ther­a­py:  This prod­uct obtained 510(k) clear­ance FDA clear­ance in April 2003 for patients recov­er­ing from stroke or trau­mat­ic brain injury. It con­sti­tutes a very expen­sive inter­ven­tion. Clin­i­cal val­i­da­tion is based on two pub­lished con­trolled trials.

Top stress man­age­ment products

These prod­ucts are based on biofeed­back. As a con­se­quence, they include sen­sors that mea­sure skin con­duc­tiv­i­ty and/ or heart rate vari­abil­i­ty, which are asso­ci­at­ed with phys­i­o­log­i­cal stress.

  • emWave:  The PC Stress Relief (soft­ware pro­gram and biofeed­back sen­sors) can be used both by indi­vid­u­als and by pro­fes­sion­als (like psy­chol­o­gists or edu­ca­tors) who can use the pro­gram with mul­ti­ple users. The prod­uct has a New Age feel that can some­times gets in the way. The Per­son­al Stress Reliev­er (hand­held device) is easy-to-use on the go. It is cur­rent­ly pop­u­lar with nurs­es and golf players.
  • Jour­ney Wild Divine: This prod­uct is best for peo­ple look­ing to learn and explore in a gam­ing envi­ron­ment. It com­bines fun with ben­e­fits and presents a New Age look-and-feel. It can be con­sid­ered more as a game than a train­ing product.
  • RES­PeR­ATE:  This prod­uct is a portable med­ical device that has been shown to help low­er blood pres­sure. Rec­om­mend­ed use is 15 min­utes a day, sev­er­al times a week.
  • StressEras­er:  This prod­uct is a no-frills biofeed­back device, pop­u­lar with busy pro­fes­sion­als and exec­u­tives. It has lim­it­ed pub­lished clin­i­cal evi­dence, but a high-qual­i­ty Sci­en­tif­ic Advi­so­ry Board.

If you want to see the lev­el of clin­i­cal val­i­da­tion of each prod­uct (as of March 2009), please sub­scribe to free month­ly Brain Fit­ness eNewslet­ter or order the book The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness.

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.

Keep learn­ing by read­ing more arti­cles in the Resources sec­tion.

Leave a Reply