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10 questions to help baby boomers select a brain fitness program

To help consumers and professionals sort through the growing number of programs making "brain fitness" or "brain training" claims, SharpBrains offers a checklist called “10 Questions to Choose the Right Brain Fitness Program.”

  1. Are there scientists, ideally neuropsychologists, and a scientific advisory board behind the program? Neuropsychologists specialize in measuring and understanding human cognition and brain structure and function.
  2. Are there published, peer-reviewed scientific papers in PubMed written by those scientists? How many? PubMed is a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine that includes millions of citations of science journals. If a scientist hasn’t published a paper that appears in that database, he or she can’t make scientific claims.MyBrain
  3. What are the specific benefits claimed for using this program? What specific cognitive skill is the program training? Some programs present the benefits in such a nebulous way that it’s impossible to tell if they’ll have any results or not... "Brain training" itself is a limited benefit, because activities such as gardening or learning a new language provide "brain training too"... You need to see something more specific, such as what cognitive or emotional skill the program is aimed at.
  4. Does the program tell me what part of my brain or which cognitive skill I’m exercising, and is there an independent assessment to measure my progress? The question is whether the improvement experienced in the program will transfer into real life. For that to happen, we need assessments that are distinct from the exercises themselves.
  5. Is it a structured program with guidance on how many hours per week and days per week to use it? Cognitive training, or "brain exercise," isn’t a magic pill. You have to do the exercises in order to benefit, so you need clarity on the effort required.
  6. Do the exercises vary and teach me something new? The only way to exercise important parts of our brain is by tackling novel challenges.
  7. Does the program challenge and motivate me, or does it feel like it would become easy once I learned it? Good brain exercise requires increasing levels of difficulty.
  8. Does the program fit my personal goals? Each individual has different goals/needs when it comes to brain health? For example, some want to manage anxiety, others to improve short-term memory...
  9. Does the program fit my lifestyle? Some brain exercise programs have great short-term results but are very intense. Others may be better over time.
  10. Am I ready and willing to do the program, or would it be too stressful? Excess stress reduces, or may even inhibit, neurogenesis, the creation of new neurons. So, it’s important to make sure not to do things that stress us in unhealthy ways.

SharpBrains is a market research and advisory service that provides information to consumers, companies, and institutions to help them evaluate cognitive and brain fitness products.

SharpBrains offers a blog on brain games and fitness.

Copyright 2009, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist

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