Seniors Short-Changed in Brain Game Craze

The magazine Fast Company ballyhoos the popularity of companies that sell various types of brain games. These are games designed to sharpen a wide range of cognitive skills.

“Sharp Brains, a market research firm tracking the brain fitness space, estimates that the size of the market for digital products was just under $300 million in 2009 and will grow to at least $2 billion by 2015,” Fast Company reported.

Lumosity, one of the field leaders, just got a $32 million capital infusion. There are other, smaller, firms like CogniFit and Posit Science, competing in the field.

Star Trek’s Commander Spock playing the ultimate brain game 3 dimensional chess

“When we first invested, we were concerned this was just a niche area for people with Alzheimer’s or other cognitive problems,” Tim Chang of Norwest Venture Partners tells Fast Company. “But Lumosity has proved there’s universal demand for this among all demographics.”

Why do people play brain games? One word – Neuroplasticity.

According to Wikipedia, Neuroplasticity is a non-specific neuroscience term referring to the ability of the brain and nervous system in all species to change structurally and functionally as a result of input from the environment. In other words, the brain can change and develop in the same sense that muscles develop with exercise.

Fast Company explains it this way, “the neuroscience research coming out of universities over the past couple of decades has confirmed that cognitive abilities are not necessarily fixed. Just as you can beef up your body by lifting weights, the types of games that Lumosity and its competitors offer can make your brain stronger and work faster and better.”

Customers include traders who want to sharpen their wits, actors looking for help in memorizing and seniors who are trying to fight off memory loss and senility. As it turns out the brain exercises can indeed help the first groups, but will not complete the job for the oldsters.

Sadly, as regular readers of this blog know, the seniors are only getting half their money’s worth.

As I wrote back last September in Exercise, Aging and the Brain, “Exercise increases oxygen flow into the brain, which reduces brain-bound free radicals. One of the most interesting findings of the past few decades is that an increase in oxygen is always accompanied by an uptick in mental sharpness. Exercise acts directly on the molecular machinery of the brain itself. It increases neurons’ creation, survival, and resistance to damage and stress.” Exercise training increases the size of hippocampus and improves memory.

In the April blog post Walking, Not Sudoku for Seniors  I also addressed this as these brain exercises build mental skill but do nothing to prevent shrinkage of the size of the brain and as a result declines in memory.

So, traders and actors and younger folks who simply want to increase their cognitive skill levels can have a very successful experience with the new brain games. Seniors, however, need to incorporate exercise in their regimen if they want to be protected against the cognitive problems of aging.


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Filed under aging, brain, Exercise, memory

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