Do brain games make a difference in staving off brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s or are they just harmless fun? While studies have been all over the map on this issue during the last few years, lately they indicate that at least formal brain training may help, which indicates to me that well designed informal brain training would have at least some validity. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) has this to say:
“Formal cognitive training...seems to have benefits. In the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) trial, for example, healthy adults 65 and older participated in 10 sessions of memory training, reasoning training, or processing-speed training…These improvements persisted 10 years after the training was complete.”
I’ve never enjoyed games. I am, however, rarely without two or three books, including fiction and non-fiction, by my side. Therefore, I’ve was personally gratified when further down in the NIA article the scientists say that “...Intellectually stimulating activities may also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s…ordinary activities like listening to the radio, reading newspapers, playing puzzle games, and visiting museums... “ can help keep the brain healthy.
Most likely, a variety of brain activity is best, but my view is that if we don’t enjoy what we are doing we won’t do it, so we should find something that we enjoy and carry it though. For me that is reading, although I will try to be open to more variety.
What is the takeaway – for now?
Studies have shown that most any type of mental enrichment is useful for at least staving off the symptoms of Alzheimer’s if not preventing the disease. Brain games certainly fall into that category. So would reading books and newspapers, playing a musical instrument or creating a work of art. It seems likely that maintaining brain health falls into a category similar to maintaining heart health. In both cases, we either use it or we lose it.
Just as with physical exercise, something is better than nothing. Walking is better than sitting. Reading the newspaper is better than watching TV. Anything that requires us to exert some effort, mental or physical, is bound to be helpful to our overall health.