Brain games may seem like a great way to boost your memory, but do they really help?

As we grow older, it’s natural to experience moments of forgetfulness. It’s also natural to look for tools to help improve your memory. Some brain games claim to enhance memory, but do they actually work?

The consensus among older Americans seems to be that challenging the mind with games and puzzles benefits the brain. Nearly two out of three people 50 and older believe that playing online brain games can help maintain or improve brain health, according to a survey by AARP.

But despite the fact that brain games are marketed as memory boosters, there is little scientific evidence to support those claims, according to the Global Council on Brain Health, an independent international group of scientists, health professionals, scholars and policy experts.

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In fact, the Federal Trade Commission settled a claim in 2016 against Lumosity, a well-known brain game company, stating that it “preyed on consumers’ fears about age-related cognitive decline, suggesting their games could stave off memory loss, dementia and even Alzheimer’s disease.” Yet there was no science to back up their claims.

“The scientific consensus on brain games is that people generally show improvement on aspects of the game, but that improvement does not seem to extend broadly to other important aspects of cognitive function,” says Duke Han, PhD, a neuropsychologist at Keck Medicine of USC, associate professor of family medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and a member of the Global Council on Brain Health.

Is there anything I can do to strengthen my brain?

In repeated studies, there are two activities that can increase your cognitive abilities: exercise and cognitive stimulation.

Exercise not only reduces the risk of dementia but also improves cognition for people with dementia, according to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

“Physical activity seems to have the most scientific support for having a positive impact on brain health,” Dr. Han says.

Cognitive stimulation in the form of novel activities, such as learning a language, can also keep your brain sharp.

“The quality of the stimulating activity is important. For example, if the activity is novel, engaging, challenging and enjoyable, that will arguably be better for your brain,” Dr. Han adds.

Until more research can definitively prove whether brain games improve memory, keep doing your puzzles. It might not increase your cognitive abilities, but there’s still that boost of adrenaline when you get the answer to the hardest crossword clue.

by Heidi Tyline King

If you or a loved one are concerned about memory loss, Keck Medicine of USC’s memory and aging experts can help. If you are in the Los Angeles area, schedule an appointment or call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273).