Brain training Do brain trainers work?
This article, Brain training, was last updated on 25 February 2009 and is now out of date and held in our online archive for reference. Explore our latest Technology articles.
People who buy brain trainers to keep their minds in shape may be just as well off leading active social lives or surfing the internet, according to experts.
Brain trainers such as Dr Kawashima's Brain Training for the Nintendo DS are fun and hugely popular, helped by TV ads featuring celebrities such as Nicole Kidman, Julie Walters and Patrick Stewart.
Some manufacturers claim that they can improve memory or that brain training may help stave off the risk of illness.
We asked leading neuroscientists to examine the evidence for some of the claims that manufacturers have made. They found much of it weak. In some cases, they found other activity may have an equal effect, or that the evidence showed only that using the trainer made you better at that task.
The companies behind brain trainers propose that using them will make our brains more able to deal with mental challenges in our daily lives.
Some say it’s ‘vitally important’ and that if we don’t ‘use it’ we will ‘lose it’. Others say that using their product to train our brains may help to delay the onset of conditions such as dementia.
Some of the claims that are made are dressed up in scientific-sounding language that many of us would struggle to understand.
But our experts say that none of the claims are supported by peer-reviewed research published in a recognised scientific journal and involving the specific product. This is the accepted standard by which research is judged.
Our experts say that many of the studies also have errors that would make them unpublishable.
Keep your brain in shape
There is good evidence that some activities help maintain mental processes. But many of these activities are cheap or even free.
A study of people aged over 65 found that those who exercised at least three times a week were 38% less likely to develop dementia than those who exercised less frequently. Not smoking, keeping a healthy weight, controlling blood pressure and getting enough rest are also likely to help.
The food you eat
Eating fish, olive oil, grain and vegetables (especially spinach, lettuce, cauliflower and broccoli) has been linked to slower rates of mental decline.
Challenge your mind
The most mentally challenging tasks, such as learning a musical instrument or doing crossword puzzles, are likely to be of most benefit. Doing a variety of tasks and activities will keep up the challenge and avoid you getting into a routine.