About Neurogenesis and Neuroplasticity
Neurogenesis is the creation of new brain cells (neurons). Neurogenesis is a very active process in infants and small children – this is why the human brain more than triples in weight from birth to the early teens. Much of this weight increase occurs in the cortical layers, responsible for a variety of tasks like language, learning, logic, and social awareness. A very limited amount of neurogenesis can occur during adulthood, typically in the hippocampus, an area involved in memory formation and storage.
Neuroplasticity is an “always on” process that reshapes and fine tunes (both strengthening & pruning) the more than 100 trillion neural connections (synapses) that exist in the human brain. Each single neuron can receive signals from 5,000 – 10,000 other neurons through dendrite connections:
A single neuron has only one axon to transmit signals, so it tends to “listen” to input from many of its dendrite connections before sending a signal of its own. Neuroplasticity is the biological method for how the brain responds to its environment – learning the skills and adaptive behavior necessary to survive.
Frequently Asked Questions on Brain Training Programs
What is a Brain Game?
A brain game is a catch-all name for a variety of online or computer based games. In order to segment the brain game market, Brain Game Review uses the following definitions:
A scientifically validated brain game is based on well known neurocognitive tests, and the game is being/has been referenced in peer reviewed research journals. Several online brain game sites and software program brain games meet the definition of a scientifically validated brain game.
A brain training program is a methodology for using scientifically validated brain games to achieve optimal results – a personal trainer at your gym is a good analogy here – a program or person who keeps you on track and makes sure the optimal training schedule is being followed. A collection of online programs and software products have an integrated “coaching system” that helps keep users on track with their training program.
Casual brain games are for entertainment and general education purposes, and for the most part aren’t backed by any scientific validation. Sudoku, Nintendo Brain Age, and hundreds of other brain teasers, brain puzzles, and brain games fall in this category.
The rest of this FAQ assumes answers for scientifically validated brain training games only.
Do Brain Training Games work? Can they make you smarter?
Under certain circumstances, yes, scientifically validated brain games can improve cognitive abilities. What are those circumstances? Focus and schedule:
- 30 minute training sessions, min. 3-4 days per week for the first month
Maintenance/booster training sessions, 20-30 minutes, at least once a week
Following a disciplined schedule like this has been shown to increase neural connections in the brain and improve overall cognitive skills.
However, using a “when I have time and want to” training schedule won’t produce good results, the same as going to the gym once or twice a month won’t give you six pack abs or great cardio health. A recent Nature/BBC study that received extensive press coverage claimed no improvement from using brain training games. While this study was deeply flawed, one useful metric the study used was a “low bar” of 10 minute training sessions less than 3 times per week, which validates that a more rigorous schedule is necessary to produce results.
What are the differences between all these Brain Training Games?
There are two main differences:
- Delivery Method: Online Brain Training Games or Software Brain Game Programs installed on a PC or tablet device. Choosing the delivery method tends to be a
personal preference for most users – some users opt for online
sites for ease of use, but others prefer to have the brain training
games on their PC or tablet, which also allows better control over who has
access to their brain training data.
- General Purpose or Specialized Focus: Several brain training products exercise a wide range of cognitive skills like working memory, language, attention, and executive control. Other brain training games specialize in improving skills for team sports training, senior driver safety, ADHD remediation, K-12 education, etc.
Cost models for brain training games also vary. Online sites charge a monthly or annual subscription fee, software brain training products charge a license fee for unlimited use on a PC or sometimes for a maximum number of training sessions. See individual product reviews for price details.
Can Brain Training Games help prevent Alzheimer’s, Dementia, or Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)?
There is no such thing as 100% prevention for age-related cognitive disorders, in the same way that there is no 100% prevention for cardiovascular disease, hypertension, or diabetes.
However, on the positive side, a recent NIH study of all existing research points to increased “cognitive engagement” being associated with lower risk for Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).
So what does this mean? Increased cognitive engagement, including use of brain training games, builds up “cognitive reserve” in the same manner that routine exercise for cardiovascular health builds up prevention against a heart attack.
Can Brain Training Games help in the recovery from brain injuries like stroke, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Acquired Brain Injury (ABI)?
One of the hallmarks of major brain injury is the need to re-learn basic life skills in many cases. Basic motor coordination skills for walking or holding a fork may have to be learned again. Auditory processing for language comprehension, ability to sustain attention on a task, and basic planning/logic ability can be negatively affected with brain injuries.
Lumosity and Dakim BrainFitness have both been used in neurocognitive rehabilitation settings, so either product would be a good place to start.
Which Brain Training Games are the best choice for me?
That depends on whether you’re looking for general cognitive “cross training” exercises or a more specialized focus:
- Most of the online brain training sites offer general brain training games, much like a cross training circuit routine at the gym.
- Working memory exercises are “cardio training for the brain”, and have been shown in research to improve fluid intelligence. MindSparke Brain Fitness provides a good training system for Working Memory improvement.
- For older seniors, Dakim BrainFitness gently exercises cognitive skills like attention, processing speed and language skills.
- Brain training for student reading and learning skills is receiving increased attention. LearningRx and BrainPro offer an intensive brain training system for school age children.
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