Having trouble remembering to feed the dog, recall where you left your appointment book, or conjure up the name of the fourth Beatle on trivia night? And what about your clients? Are they suffering from cognitive impairment or decline? The solution may lie with a concept that’s garnered increased attention—and skepticism—in recent years: computerized brain games.
The idea that these games could play a role in preserving and enhancing cognitive function is being backed by advances in the study of neuroplasticity, overturning the notion that human brainpower is set on an inevitable, irreversible course of progressive decline. Indeed, many studies show that computerized brain training designed to sharpen the mind can yield benefits that range from strengthening memory to boosting intelligence and reasoning skills. But, of course, the rapid ascension of these games—made possible by the ubiquity of portable electronic devices such as mobile phones—has also raised questions about how fully they live up to their claims.
Enter Dan Hurley, a science journalist and author of the recently published book Smarter: The New Science of Building Brain Power
. After interviewing several hundred researchers and study participants, and reviewing countless peer-reviewed trials published on the subject, Hurley reached a conclusion: “It is absolutely possible to move the needle on improving various kinds of cognitive abilities,” he says.
Although four of the studies he reviewed revealed no cognitive improvement stemming from brain games, 75 of them pointed to numerous beneficial results, suggesting that brain training can improve “real-world abilities of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, older adults with mild cognitive impairment, people recovering from chemotherapy or radiation for cancer, people with Down syndrome, victims of traumatic brain injury, and otherwise healthy adults and children.”
Hurley says that even the field’s most skeptical researchers now agree that working memory and attention can be strengthened. And those benefits extend far beyond helping high-functioning people remember where they put their keys. Hurley adds that disorders such as depression and schizophrenia are often accompanied by seriously diminished working memory. “In fact,” he says, “one of the strongest predictors of long-term outcomes for people with major depression and schizophrenia is their level of working memory—after all, someone who cannot ‘think straight’ and make sense of life’s daily challenges is going to have a very hard time handling daily activities.”Read Tori Rodriguez's full article, "Do Brain Games Build Cognitive Muscle?," in the May/June 2014 issue of Psychotherapy Networker magazine.