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Building Cognitive Reserve: Do Computer Games Really Work?

Building Cognitive Reserve: Do Computer Games Really Work?

Lumos Labs has been fined $2 million by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for deceptive advertising of its software, Lumosity. Over 70 million people have used Lumosity, which was advertised as scientific brain games to train memory and attention. The FTC’s concern is that the company has implied that Lumosity can stave off dementia and cognitive decline.

Scientists are debating whether any computer-based “brain training” game can improve cognition and brain health. In the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, one group argued that brain training games cannot yield the broad cognitive benefits needed to delay dementia or improve function in older adults. The other side disagreed, positing that some brain training can safely enhance cognition and maybe even brain function and quality-of-life in older adults. More research is needed to settle the questions about such games.

Despite this debate, learning remains one of our recommended first steps to protect your brain. Why? People who have been cognitively engaged throughout life have a lower risk or later onset of dementia. Studies suggest that their cognitive function continues longer in the face of damage, and the activity of their brains may slow such damage. Even in later life, cognitive stimulation may be helpful.

It can be found through many activities, including work, social engagement, and volunteering. In a randomized trial, elderly people at risk of cognitive impairment experienced improved cognitive function and executive function over six months when they volunteered in elementary schools. But no treatment—whether lifestyle or pharmaceutical—has been conclusively proven to protect against dementia by reducing risk or delaying onset. Cognitive enrichment is likely just one of many tools needed in the fight against dementia.

Dr. Penny Dacks was previously the Director of Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention at the Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation. She was trained in neuroscience at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, the University of Arizona, and Queen's University (Canada) with individual fellowships from the National Institute of Health, the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Research Foundation, the ARCS Foundation and the Hilda and Preston Davis Foundation. She has authored over 18 peer-reviewed scientific articles and is a member of the Society for Neuroscience, the Gerontological Society of America, the Endocrine Society and the Association for Women in Science.

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