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HomeTech Tips: Cognitive Games That Might Help Your Brain

TECH TIPS: Cognitive Games that Might Help Your Brain

By Howard Kirsch & Lincoln Spector

We all know that regular physical exercise and a good diet can extend your ability to enjoy life. But it's no guarantee. You can do everything right, and still be struck down by cancer at an early age.

The same has been said for mental exercise, but with considerably less certainty. Exercising your brain with the right kind of games - memory games, word games, puzzles, and so on - might help you remain sharp as you age. Reliable scientific results won't be in for decades. And any claim that these games could delay something like Alzheimer should be taken with a massive mountain of salt.

As Mallory Locklear wrote last year in New Scientist, Brain-training is a controversial area. There’s a booming market in computer games designed to improve a person’s memory, attention, or multitasking skills, for example, but evidence on whether they work any better than other types of computer game has been mixed.
It's worth noting that one of the most popular game sites, Lumosity, was sued by the FTC for false claims of how it can improve your brain.

But even if the games don't actually help, they're still fun. So you're still getting something out of playing them.

Whether you play for fun or in hope that you will stave off senility, here are some types of games you might want to try:

Lincoln's Recommendations: Individual Apps
I'm an Android person, so that's what I turn to. But you'll find similar games for the iPhone.

Memory games: You can play these with a deck of cards, but an app on your phone helps you keep score. The trick is to look at face-down cards two at a time, then remember which card is where. I'm partial to Jasper de Keijzer's Happy Cards (he used to call the game Memory; I don't know why he changed it). Rather than conventional cards, it offers cute drawings of birds, people, hearts, ambulances, and just about anything. You can only view two images at a time, and the trick is to open two identical ones.

Crossword Puzzles: I'm only now learning the joys of figuring out the right word. (As a professional writer, it always felt too much like work.) I suspect, without real proof, that it helps you with your vocabulary. I'm partial to Redstone Games' Crossword Puzzle Free. It comes with hundreds of puzzles of various levels of difficulty. Eventually, if you really get hooked, you'll have to pay for some. But that's reasonable; someone must create these puzzles.

Howard's Recommendations: Websites

Luminosity isn't the only collection of games claiming to improve memory, attention, flexibility, speed of processing, and problem solving. I find Peak and Elevate to be two of the best. Both have received very good reviews and can be used on either Apple or Android phones and tablets.

Both Peak and Elevate sport very intuitive, easy-to-use interfaces, and both are slickly designed. I personally find the design of Elevate more pleasing, but both programs provide mini games that, they claim, will help make brain training fun, interesting, and rewarding. By rewarding they mean that as you use these games you will become more adept in memory, focus, math, comprehension, and other mental skills. (Again, be skeptical of these claims.) Both offer analytics that help you assess your progress, and both are initially free, but have a "pro" version that offers more games and features. I recommend starting with the free version to see whether this sort of brain exercise is right for you.

For a fun, analogue version of the card-matching game memory game Lincoln recommended above, try The Eric Carle Matching Card Game. You can buy this in a local toy store. The nice part of playing it is you can challenge your grandchildren to play with you.

Don't expect a miracle from any of these games. But even if they don't improve your help, you'll probably enjoy them.

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