Does Brain Training Work?

Doing-jigsaws-helps-brain-cells-growBrain train­ing vs. men­tal stimulation?

Any­thing you do involv­ing nov­elty, vari­ety, and chal­lenge stim­u­lates the brain and is a pleasurable way to pass time. Lifelong brain fit­ness, though, involves more. Crosswords or playing chess stimulate your brain and that’s good. But it isn’t brain training.

For noticeable brain improvement you need activities that target your own areas of weak performance. The difference is similar to physical fitness – walking or playing tennis are good for you but for real improvements you need specific train­ing e.g. car­dio endurance, core strength and flexibility.

It is not one or the other.

How will brain train­ing work best?

The way to measure success is through the transfer of skills to improvement in daily life.

Here are the five key conditions needed:

  1. The task must exer­cise a core brain-based capac­ity that is rel­e­vant to real-life out­comes, such as paying close atten­tion, using work­ing memory or Dr. Lamont’s six key memory skills. General practice isn’t enough.
  2. The task must tar­get the part of your own memory performance that needs help – Training your brain for skills you don’t need won’t bring improvement. Identify the skills YOU need e.g. Do I need to improve driving-related cog­ni­tive skills? Con­cen­tra­tion? Mem­ory? Reg­u­lat­ing stress and emo­tions? Remembering names and facts? The choice of a tech­nique or tech­nol­ogy should be dri­ven by your goal. Otherwise you’ll wonder why this doesn’t “work” for you (even though the tasks may have been brilliant for someone else).
  3. For real improvement, you need to practise for a min­i­mum of 15 hours total per tar­geted brain func­tion, per­formed over 8 weeks or less. Train­ing only a few hours across a wide vari­ety of brain-exercise-15hoursbrain func­tions won’t trig­ger real-world ben­e­fits, in the same way that going to the gym a cou­ple times per month and doing an assort­ment of undi­rected exer­cises won’t result in increased mus­cle strength and phys­i­cal fitness.
  4. Train­ing must require focused effort, atten­tion and increase in dif­fi­culty. This is a key advan­tage of com­put­er­ized “brain train­ing” over pen-and-paper-based activ­i­ties. Inter­ac­tive train­ing can con­stantly mon­i­tor your level of per­for­mance and adapt accordingly.
  5. Con­tin­ued prac­tice is required for con­tin­ued ben­e­fits. A one-time brain train­ing activ­ity will be enjoyable but won’t bring life-long benefits.
    15 hours over 8 weeks will bring about brain improvement in the target area; but con­tin­ued prac­tice as a peri­odic “booster” is needed for trans­fer to real-world ben­e­fits.

Brain and Memory Foundation has a range of brain tools to help you identify your weaker areas and address those with specific training.

Are you ready?

For more reading: Amazing Memory Tune trial results, A simple Memory Check that will help you identify areas of potential weakness, Boost Your Brain Power.  Try a 2-minute short-term memory exercise now.  For a reader assessment of our free brain training course, Does Brain Tune work.

For a clinical assessment of your memory, contact Dr. Allison Lamont at the Auckland Memory Clinic.

Based on an research article by Alvaro Fernandez, June, 2013.

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