Playing games seems like a great way to maintain or improve cognitive health, but do brain games really work? The answer, according to a recent scoping review published in The Gerontologist, is not exactly straightforward.
This review article examined 17 studies that tested the power of brain games to improve cognitive health in older adults who had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment or dementia. A variety of commercial and in-house brain games were used, and could be played on a computer, smartphone, tablet, or game console.
Overall, there weren’t any surprising breakthroughs, but some interesting trends emerged. Research tended to focus on the immediate benefits to learning and memory, attention/executive function, and global cognition, with about half of the studies exploring at least one of these outcomes. Of these, brain games appeared to be consistently beneficial for learning and memory as well as for attention/executive function. Studies were also fairly consistent in reporting no benefit for global cognition, although one did find improvements in this area.
Only a handful of studies measured speed of processing as an outcome, but results seemed to be consistently positive. Findings from the few studies that explored benefits for visuospatial function and language, however, tended to be inconsistent. Most studies did not explore long-term cognitive benefits, but of those that did, results tended to be consistent with the more immediate findings, with the brain game groups showing better cognitive function than control groups.
Not surprisingly, the authors concluded that there is potential for brain games to improve cognitive function. They recommended that future research should explore how cognitive benefits translate to everyday life, as well as which type of game is most beneficial.
The purpose of this type of review was more to explore the research that has been conducted so far and not necessarily to draw any conclusions, but it provided useful information nonetheless. Brain games have been available for some time now and based on the small amount of evidence for their effectiveness, more rigorous research is needed.
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