Do Brain Games Actually Improve Memory?

​For those of us in midlife and beyond, memory-loss represents one of our greatest fears. We all know someone who has been affected by Dementia, Mild Cognitive Impairment and other neurological conditions that strike in later life. The fear of losing independence is something that we can all relate to. Nevertheless, there has never been a better time to be 50+ as science and technology continue to make huge strides in developing treatments age-related conditions.

The fast-growing brain training industry, for example, offers hope that through regular brain games, puzzles and memory challenges, cognitive function can be improved and the effects of memory-loss reversed.However, there is still much debate and confusion about brain games and their effectiveness at improving memory and brain health. Let’s look at the evidence and see if they really can be as effective as they claim. While some research has produced mixed results, three studies. in particular, stand out:

The Cochrane Library ​This collaborative study in the UK is considered especially scientifically rigorous. It analysed 15 studies to date, involving 718 men and women with Dementia. Participants engaged in a variety of brain training activities aimed at being cognitively stimulating and found that such activities improved memory and thinking test scores and could even help delay increases in severity of dementia symptoms!

The Cambridge Study In 2017, a study by researchers at Cambridge University found that brain games could improve memory and brain function in those with early stage memory problems which can be a precursor to Dementia. The effects of regular brain training using software on an ipad were tested on 42 patients with mild cognitive impairment. The participants demonstrated improvements in their ‘episodic’ memory through bettering their scores by up to 40% after playing brain game two hours per week for a month. While these results are encouraging and do suggest that playing brain games regularly can improve your memory, and be especially useful if you are in the early stages of cognitive decline, further research is needed to determine how long-lasting the effects can be.

The FINGER study Perhaps even more encouraging for brain game users were the results of the FINGER study. This was a two-year study into the effect of multiple lifestyle factors on the risk of developing Dementia. The study involved over 1200 patients and ultimately identified regular brain training as one of four factors that when combined as part of healthy lifestyle could improve cognitive function and reduce a person’s risk of Dementia. The three other factors are: A healthy diet, regular exercise and frequent social interaction.

Conclusion In summary, a review of the evidence certainly suggests that brain games are in some way beneficial for brain health and that regularly training your brain can improve your general cognitive function. Some early studies have also shown that they can improve memory too. However the most conclusive research, the FINGER study, suggests that the best way to improve memory improve memory and fight Dementia is to play brain games regularly as part of a healthy lifestyle, combined with exercise, healthy eating and social interaction!