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Do brain games really work?

Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital July 10, 2015 Wellness Articles

older woman using a tablet while lounging on couchMisplaced your keys? Forgot a friend’s birthday? Or maybe you just feel like you can’t recall information as quickly as you used to. Then you may have been tempted by the wave of memory improvement services that have been popping up in recent years. These ‘brain games’ offer the promise of improving your memory, brain health, and IQ with the help of quizzes, puzzles and other techniques.

But is improving your memory as easy as signing up for a monthly service, or are these brain games too good to be true?

“It’s more about maintaining and optimizing your current brain function. You won’t jump IQ points, but by playing memory and attention games, you’re maintaining brain function and flexibility by challenging your brain to do something new,” explains Melanie Hrytsak, speech pathologist at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital.

Hrytsak, who uses brain games for most of her patients with cognitive issues, including those with Parkinson’s disease, relates the activities to exercise.

“What I tell my patients is that this is good exercise for the brain. Just like physical exercise is the best way to slow the physical aspects of aging, mental exercise is the best way to slow the cognitive aspects.”

Hrytsak stresses that brain games aren’t a cure-all for cognitive issues, but she reminds her patients that they can help maintain brain function and—above all—it can’t hurt to challenge yourself.

Although most memory services being promoted today are ‘pay-to-play’ or require a monthly subscription fee, you don’t need to pay to reap the benefits of these brain games. Hrytsak recommends traditional games, like crosswords, Sudoku, board games, chess or bridge, or free games available on tablets and smartphones. If games like these aren’t your idea of fun, learning opportunities like cooking classes or online education courses can also be beneficial.

“Look for anything that stimulates your brain. If you have something new on your plate, something that is outside your comfort zone, you have to think about it,” Hrytsak says. “These games are wonderful for that—to give you something new, something different to do. I continue to use them and promote them, but always with that caveat: it won’t make you smarter.”

Hrytsak also notes that regular physical exercise has also been shown to improve brain function.

If you're concerned that you or someone you love has a memory problem, make an appointment with your physician, who may be able to to diagnose the problem, or can refer you to a qualified specialist. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.