Brain training has been touted as a way to prevent age-related cognitive decline. Many products are available for purchase. But are any actually effective?
We reviewed the merits of peer-reviewed clinical intervention studies that investigated commercial computerised brain training products in healthy people aged over 50 years.
We identified seven programs whose claims of efficacy were supported by evidence, but only two of these met our highest standards. These were BrainHQ and Cognifit.
Exercises from BrainHQ continuously adjusted difficulty depending on how the user was performing. One set of exercises included matching pairs of confusable syllables, reconstructing sequences of verbal instructions, and identifying details in a verbally presented story.
Other sets of exercises are visually engaging – for example, in one of the exercises the user is assumed to be a gardener. To grow plants, the user has to match pictures after they appear briefly on screen, one after the other.
Exercises from Cognifit contain 21 different tasks. In one of the tasks a hot-air balloon flies in the sky. On its way, it lands on different clouds. The user has to remember and reproduce its exact route.
In another task, a letter grid appears in the centre of the screen. A picture of a well-known object appears in the lower left corner of the screen and the user has to find the name of this object spelled out in the letter grid.
Overall, both programs provided reasonable clinical evidence to support healthy brain ageing. Healthy brain ageing is a broad term that focuses on sustaining cognitive function and capacity to function independently as we age.
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