A deeper look into brain-boosting software

October 5, 2015

New computer software programs and videos promise to boost brainpower while you have fun. Here are a few things to keep in mind about this so-called brain-boosting software:

A deeper look into brain-boosting software

Improving thinking skills and memory

Research shows that older people may get benefits, but barely more than you'd gain from regular exercise, an active social life, and regular mental challenges. Meanwhile, experts warn that computer fun may not be best for babies.

  • As we age, most of us don't mind if some things slow down a bit, like the pace of our daily lives. But our minds aren't one of those things. In fact, dozens of "brain-training" computer games and Web sites are hitting the market with claims that they make the brain younger and ward off memory loss and fuzzy thinking, and some of them may help — a little.
  • In a recent study, researchers scanned the brains of 23 older people and found that those who'd gone through a brain-training program were less distracted and better able to focus. In a landmark study of 2,832 people, those who used computer brain-training programs for 10 weeks showed improvements in memory, information-processing speed and reasoning ability five years later.

Inconclusive research

Still, the notion that working your brain can forestall age-related mental declines is controversial.

  • Plenty of studies have found that people who are involved in more activities, from social groups to hobbies to continuing education, seem to maintain sharper mental skills.
  • When a neuroscientist analyzed studies purporting to show that such mental activities slow or reverse age-related brain decline, he concluded that there's no hard proof that they do.
  • At the end of the day, though, there's no harm in keeping your brain active in as many ways as possible.

Software for babies

Despite marketing claims, videos and computer programs that promise to make babies smarter or learn language faster don't work — and can even backfire.

  • When researchers surveyed 1,000 parents by phone about their children's vocabularies and time spent watching infant DVDs and videos, they got a shock. Babies and toddlers between the ages of eight and 16 months understood six to eight fewer words, on average, for every hour per day they spent watching the videos, compared to babies who didn't watch them.
  • These "educational" programs had no effect of any kind on the vocabularies of toddlers between 17 and 24 months old. The reason: babies don't learn through passive listening, but actively — when a parent or caretaker talks, sings or reads to them.

While much of the research is contradictory, it is best to keep your mind active in as many ways as possible. Brain-boosting software may help your memory, but being actively involved in social groups, having hobbies, and challenging yourself mentally are all proven to be effective. Be sure to use a combination of all of these things to keep yourself mentally stimulated.

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