Loyola neurologist finds little scientific evidence that brain games improve cognitive function

Computerized brain games that are advertised as a way to help boost intelligence and prevent dementia will be popular Christmas gifts this year.

But there's little scientific evidence to support these industry claims, said Loyola University Medical Center neurologist Xabier Beristain, MD, who treats patients with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.

"These games are not a panacea," Dr. Beristain said.

Brain-training games require the user to perform certain tasks on a computer. The games may make the user more skilled at narrow tasks, but there's little evidence they make the user smarter overall or less likely to experience cognitive decline, Dr. Beristain said.

Dr. Beristain said there is more compelling scientific evidence that level of education, staying socially active and learning a challenging skill such as digital photography can improve cognitive function in older adults. "Getting regular exercise also is an important part of maintaining mental health and memory," Dr. Beristain said.

Dr. Beristain also recommends a healthy diet, with plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats and antioxidants.

A recent consensus statement signed by leading cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists concluded "there is no compelling scientific evidence to date" that brain games reduce or reverse cognitive decline. Furthermore, the statement said, "exaggerated and misleading claims exploit the anxiety of older adults about impending decline." The statement was offered by the Stanford Center on Longevity and the Berlin Max Planck Institute for Human Development.

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