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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Does brain training really work?

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NPR's Morning Edition takes a look at competing theories on the effects of mental exercise on staving off dementia and mental degradation in old age. While the piece doesn't deal specifically with video games, the implications for brain training games like Brain Age and Mind Quiz and even puzzle and adventure games are pretty apparent.

The results are decidedly mixed. One study of nearly 3,000 elderly people showed that a few hours of directed mental exercise could show effects up to five years later, but the improvement was rather modest for most volunteers. Another researcher cited in the NPR report thinks that building a "cognitive reserve" of mental skills before old age is more effective than taking up Sudoku in your autumn years. And then there's genetics, which may play a more important role in the proceedings than a simple crossword puzzle.

The final takeaway? While games and puzzles might be a good way to keep your brain in shape, don't consider them a sure-fire way to prevent Alzheimer's disease. And whatever you do, don't get too frustrated while you play -- research suggests that's avoiding stress and depression can help you maintain good mental health.

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