The brain thrives on mental stimulation, which can be accomplished in a number of ways. Online brain training programs have become very popular.
In 2013, over $1 billion will be spent on them, making this an exploding industry. If you’re considering starting a brain training program, how do you know which one is right for you?
There are three main things to consider when picking a program to exercise your brain — substance, style, and demographics.
Substance. You need to know if a program is actually going to provide you benefits. Choose a scientifically designed and tested brain training program that has been show to improve memory and other related cognitive functions.
Style. Style might not seem very important, but it is. If a program isn’t “your style,” you’ll be less likely to stick with it.
You want a program designed for your level of technical comfort. You want to find it fun with just the right amount of difficulty.
How do you feel about competition? Some programs will be comparing your games scores to those of other players. Some programs give excellent instructions, while others leave you to figure things out mostly on your own.
Demographics. Not every brain training system can address the needs of every demographic. Some will be better suited for the younger crowd and some will be better for seniors.
Also, most games are designed for people that are basically healthy, not for someone with a diagnosed brain disorder, if that is your situation.
These are the kinds of things to keep in mind so that you’ll pick a program suitable for you. You want a program you’ll look forward to so that you’ll get the most out of it.
You should not feel overwhelmed, frustrated, or bored. That’s no way to improve your brain health!
Here are my impressions of some of the more well-known programs — Lumosity, Anti-Aging Games, Dakim BrainFitness, and DaisyBrains. You’ll see that all training programs are not created equal and no one program is right for everyone.
Lumosity — Popular with 25-34 Year Olds
Lumosity is by far the most popular brain training program, with over 50 million users worldwide. I suspected that their target audience was for people somewhat younger than me, but was very surprised to learn that their main audience is 25-34!
For those of us who didn’t grow up playing video games, playing these kinds of games can take some getting used to. If you don’t have high-level mouse clicking and keyboard skills, you’ll find yourself slowed down not by your brain, but by your fingers!
I like the open, airy feel about this site. It almost looks like it’s designed for kids. This lowers the intimidation factor, if you aren’t familiar with online games.
But I don’t like that they make it difficult to explore their website until you’ve taken the questionnaire and given your name and email address.
Games are competitive. Not only are you competing against your previous scores, but against how others are doing, too.
You can sign up for a a 7 day free trial. I’d recommend starting with one month at a time to be sure you like it and think you’ll stick with it.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen some complaints on third party sites that Lumosity makes it difficult to cancel ongoing payments once you’ve signed up, so be sure you read all the fine print before you commit to anything.
Who is Lumosity for? If you are between 20 and 40, and enjoy playing traditional video games in a competitive environment, and have good manual dexterity, this could be the program for you.
Anti-Aging Games — Focused on Adults Over 35
Anti-Aging Games brain training program is designed by Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari, and a team of neuroscientists. Anti-Aging Games claims to have reviewed over 17,000 medical studies during the course of putting their system together.
There are several things I really like about this company. The games are interspersed with tips. There are meditations and guided relaxations included that you can use as often as you’d like.
I am very impressed that the CEO of Anti-Aging Games, Elizabeth Amini, took the time to have an extensive conversation with my husband about their program. He found her to be extremely passionate about this endeavor and felt that providing a useful service is this company’s primary objective, not making money. They donate 20% of pre-tax profits to worthy health causes.
You can watch Ms. Amini give a talk at the Southern California TED conference here — Top 10 Tips to Keep Your Brain Young.
They offer a 30 day free trial. After that, it the retail cost is $12.99 per month.
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Who is Anti-Aging Games for? Anti-Aging Games is the only program we found that is specifically for people who are mentally healthy and over 35 years of age.
Dakim BrainFitness — For Those 60+ with Significant Cognitive Issues
Dakim BrainFitness software is the only brain training program designed for users age 60 and above. It is serious brain training and is used in nursing homes for people with serious brain disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Dakim uses pictures, videos, music, humor, storytelling, and cultural references that would make it a fun interactive experience for the elderly.
I just turned 60 but I found most of the cultural references before my time, and frankly, pretty corny. After a game, you’ll be rewarded with an occasional “holy cow!” or “someone ate their Wheaties.”
Unlike online programs where you are buying online access, with Dakim you are buying a software program. You get 300 hours of unique content and a stereo headphone set for $249.
Who is Dakim for? This system is said to be for people 60+ who want to stay sharp, as well as for anyone in significant mental decline such as patients recovering from stroke, traumatic brain injury (TBI), dementia, or Alzheimer’s. I think it’s more for people 80+. It struck me as something my mother would like, not my peers.
DaisyBrains — For Women Only
DaisyBrains claims to have a unique point of view. The company’s premise is that women’s brains are different so women should have a training program just for them.
I love the concept of brain training especially for women. Women’s brains are different than men’s. But other than superficial appearances, I’ve played DaisyBrain’s games and don’t see how they are different than the rest.
There’s no scientific evidence offered that these exercises are created to do anything different either. The main difference is that the website is pretty and some of the games are cute, incorporating rubber ducks, penguins, flowers, and leprechauns into them.
I was frustrated with the games I tried. At times my mouse clicks didn’t register promptly, leaving me unsure which “took” and which didn’t. Instructions weren’t always clear. For example, the “Sugar, Sugar” exercise had these instructions: “Draw with your mouse to get enough sugar into the cup.” Hmm.
The drawing challenge category was a challenge alright! There was a drawing editor but no instructions. I didn’t know what the heck I was supposed to do! There is a gallery of others’ artwork and I was amazed that some were actually pretty good. So it can be done, just not by me.
DaisyBrains claims on its website that it has “teamed up to create challenging brain exercises based on the principles of neuroplasticity, and grounded the latest in brain training research.” But there were no specifics on its site to support this claim.
You can sign up for a 3 day free trial.
Who is DaisyBrains for? If having a feminine feel is important to you, you don’t need a lot of instruction, and aren’t easily frustrated, this program could work for you. But like your friends have probably said about at least one of your old boyfriends, “You could do better.” Depending on your age and interests, I think one of the other programs would be a better choice.
Is Brain Training Right for You?
Now that you know more about these four technology-driven programs, which sounds the best to you? Visit that program’s website and sign up for its trial offer or play sample games.
Play the games and note how you feel afterwards. You should feel mentally energized and refreshed.
If you feel overwhelmed, frustrated, annoyed or bored, either this is not the program for you, or you need to adjust the program’s difficulty level up or down, if that’s possible.
If you didn’t enjoy the trials, that’s OK! Hi-tech brain training isn’t the right fit for everyone.
There are many, many real world activities you can engage in that, while you’re developing new skills, also develop your brain. This is brain training too!
Learn to play chess, start an exercise program, learn a new language, or engage in a new hobby. Music has known life-enhancing qualities, so learning to play or master a musical instrument or learning how to dance are great ways to improve your brain while adding more fun into your life.
If you have experience with any of these programs that could benefit other readers, please share them below. Your experiences might be different than mine and we can all learn from each other!