The possibility of losing one’s mental sharpness to Alzheimer’s disease or some other mental malady is one of the scariest aspects of the aging process.
That’s why so many researchers are turning their gaze toward so-called “brain games” and whether they can help us exercise our grey matter as our hair turns grey.
An entire web site, http://www.luminosity.com, is dedicated to online games designed to test our mental acuity. It now has about 60 million subscribers who pay fees for the privilege and fun of playing games that challenge their brains.
Go to any major newspaper web site and you’ll find online games are as much as part of the appeal as they are to people who prefer the crosswords and Sudoku they work in the hand-held print edition.
A clinical study with more than 2,800 subjects averaging 73 years of age was printed in the January issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
The participants received 10 years worth of brain training and, while the research showed no evidence of improved memory, it did show proof of better problem-solving skills and better reaction time in working the brain games correctly.
Scientists think more study is worthwhile, in part, because they found out in the early part of the 21st century that the brain has a lot more plasticity than previously believed.
If you’ve been to a big city, you know that an honest cab driver is the best ally you can have. Someone who knows the city inside and out from experience and is not inclined to drive you all over creation to get you where you’re going is as good as a map or a Garmin.
In the early 2000s, neuroscientists who ran brain scans on London cab drivers discovered that the hippocampus in each of their brains had actually increased in size after being required to memorize maps of neighborhoods in the city.
Since the hippocampus is the part of the brain believed to be in charge of what we remember, people started to ask if brain power can get better with exercise just as biceps and quadriceps can improve with exercise.
Some studies seem to indicate that people who play brain games frequently become much better at the specific tasks exercised by those particular games, but those skills don’t necessarily carry over to games or real-life functions that exercise different skills.
Sudoku is practically a religion with some people. It’s not one of my favorites, but I am fond of online crossword puzzles, jumbles, word searches and jigsaw puzzles.
There’s a game on http://www.washingtonpost.com called “Cricklers” that tests your knowledge of current events and your ability to ascertain information from the context of your reading material at the same time.
With millennials’ addiction to cyberspace, if you’ll pardon the pun, a virtual reality, I say it couldn’t hurt to encourage teenagers who spend more time texting than thinking to get online and play some of these brain games.
It could be as helpful to their preparation for the SAT as anything they learn in class.