‘Brain games’ of little benefit to mental health

There’s no clear link between brain games and thinking abilities, according to research from the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH).

But mentally engaging activities that can support and maintain memory, reasoning skills, and the ability to focus include:
  • engaging in formal or informal educational activities
  • learning a new language
  • engaging in work or leisure activities that are mentally challenging; and
  • connecting socially with others.
The study was run by the GCBH, an international group of scientists, health professionals, scholars and policy experts that work on brain health issues. The group was brought together by AARP (an organisation for Americans over the age of 50) and supported by Age UK with the goal to maintain and improve brain health as people get older. Although the research centred around older people, the findings are relevant to people of all ages with findings including:
  • People can influence how their brain changes as they age.
  • People can help maintain their memory, thinking, attention and reasoning skills as they age by doing brain-stimulating activities.
  • Training on a specific cognitive ability such as memory may improve that ability, but evidence suggests you need to continue to apply that training to maintain or improve the ability over time.
  • There is insufficient evidence that getting better at ‘brain games’ will improve people’s overall functioning in everyday life.
  • In order to maintain or improve brain health the activity must be: novel, highly engaging, mentally challenging, and enjoyable.
  • There is sufficient evidence that brain-stimulating activities are beneficial to staying mentally sharp over your lifespan.
Practical tips from the GCBH include mixing some of the following activities:
  • Finding new ways to stimulate the brain and challenging the way you think eg practicing tai-chi, taking photography classes.
  • Participating in mentally-stimulating activities that include social engagement and a purpose in life eg volunteering or mentoring.
  • Doing physical activities that involve both mental engagement and physical exercise to improve brain health, for example dancing or tennis.
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