Monday, December 22, 2014

Brain training games endorsed by scientists who sell brain training games!

"Just two months after a group of neuroscientists criticized commercially available brain games, a different group of scientists released an open letter on Wednesday saying the products do show promise.
In October the Stanford Center on Longevity and nearly 70 scientists issued a statement objecting to claims that such games “offer consumers a scientifically grounded avenue to reduce or reverse cognitive decline.”
In response, more than 120 scientists have now signed an open letter to the Stanford center rebutting some parts of its criticism and asserting that a “substantial and growing body of evidence shows that certain cognitive-training regimens can significantly improve cognitive function, including in ways that generalize to everyday life.” The letter includes a list of 132 studies that its signatories say “directly demonstrate that computerized cognitive training can improve cognition.”
“The authors of the longevity-center statement properly concluded that a large body of work has shown there is plasticity throughout the brain and throughout life,” said Michael M. Merzenich, who led the effort to compose the new open letter, in a news release. Mr. Merzenich is a professor emeritus of neuroscience, physiology, and otolaryngology at the University of California at San Francisco and the co-founder and chief scientific officer of Posit Science, the cognitive-training company behind a program called BrainHQ. “It was rather astounding, then, that this same group failed to notice that we proved that through hundreds of studies showing we can drive positive change in the brain through directed, intensive computer-guided training. It’s silly that anyone would think that we can make cognitive training that works in labs, but not in people’s homes.”"

So if you ask scientists who stand to personally profit from selling this bullshit to a public scared witless about dementia, they will say that, sure, "brain-training" games work.

But if you ask scientists who actually work with people with dementia, they say, "bullshit."

What no one says often enough is that all of these "brain-training" games are horrifically boring and the effects, while "promising," are painfully small. That is, you could bore yourself to tears, spending hours on these exercises, and you wouldn't notice any difference in your everyday life. If you did, it would all be attributable to a placebo effect (just like ADHD meds!). Just because a change in say, working memory (e.g., how many digits you can listen to and then repeat back accurately) between Time 1 (before training) and Time 2 (after training) is statistically significant, doesn't mean that it is clinically significant (i.e., matters worth a damn in the real world). And just because you get better at a particular exercise doesn't mean that you have improved your memory or processing speed more generally. Finally, just because a change is observed via MRI brain imaging doesn't mean that the change is clinically significant.

Save your money and don't waste your time on these "brain-training" games.

If you are worried about cognitive decline or your everyday cognitive performance, try these evidence-based techniques: get a full night's sleep; quit smoking; drink alcohol only in moderation; exercise daily; eat well; and, use caffeine (coffee or cola) prior to cognitively challenging tasks. Oh, and have plenty of "brain to burn" (i.e., have a higher IQ than your peers when you are younger).

Wait, there's one more way to avoid dementia: die of cancer or cardiovascular disease first.

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