Brain Games are More than Fun

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You injure your knee and you know you are in for months, possibly years of rehab involving stretching, massaging, and exercising the weak area. It is obvious to others also because you are limping, walking slowly, wearing a brace, using a cane, or have some other visible sign.

What about a brain injury? What does rehab look like? What does an injured brain look like? This of course depends on the extent of damage. I’m talking about a closed brain injury. No apparent bruising, swelling, or twitches. The damage is internal. It causes delays and slow processing. The injured person may appear to be sleepy or grumpy or not interested when in fact trying their hardest to pay attention. I’m guessing though your first thought is not, oh, I wonder if their neurons were damaged. No, more likely you get frustrated, feel rejected, and leave the annoying person.

So what to do? How to exercise sluggish neurons? You need to use those neurons, and to do that, you need to think. Everything you do is processed in different combinations of areas of the brain. If you damaged the area needed for spatial reasoning doing shape puzzles can help get those pathways working by making new connections around the injured areas. You may never recover completely, but with the brains capacity for plasticity it is possible to relearn, and do what you need using uninjured areas. Remarkable really.

All games are good in my opinion, (I may update this if I learn otherwise, but so far every game seems to be helping me) if they require mental stamina, attention, working memory. I use lumosity because I like to see my stats in each area, like memory, speed, attention, language and problem solving. There are many free options out there. I find that some days I can’t play them at all, and I’m never sure why, what is malfunctioning exactly those days, but I have the scores and stats staring at me as proof something is wonkier than usual. I always need a nap after a gaming session, the fatigue sets in and I have no choice, sleep will happen.

I also like welltris, and was so super excited to find it in a browser version. It was my favorite game in high school, so soothing. It’s like Tetris, but the shapes drop down 4 walls not just 1. You can play it for free here – https://classicreload.com/welltris.html

welltris

Another great find was color sudoku. Since a lot of my injured area seems to have affected numbers and math, I was having trouble concentrating on standard sudoku. Apparently, by switching to colors, removing the numbers,  I could use a different area of my brain and focus on the logic instead. I can do them now! You can play a color sudoku game free here – http://www.primarygames.com/puzzles/sudoku/colorsudoku/

I lost all of my math facts recall. I use various games to help me relearn those, I don’t have  a favorite, I use a different one everyday by searching math facts game so I don’t get bored. They are designed for lower elementary students so can hurt my pride a little…but slowly it is working, my recall is gaining speed and accuracy.

I am grateful all of these tools exist for free and all I have to do is google for 30 seconds to find something new to try. I’m not sure if I am actually encouraging new neuron growth or not, but I feel better than doing nothing, less helpless and powerless while I wait for my appointment with the specialist. I figure it can’t hurt, and just might help.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/brain-games-do-they-really/ – “Yes, those computerized brain-training games seem like a cool idea. They are based in large part on clear evidence that living in an enriched environment with lots of mental stimulation produces positive brain changes. And we agree there’s huge potential for tapping into your own neuroplasticity (that is, the brain’s ability to change itself by remodeling nerve cell connections after experience) to enhance mental fitness and prevent age-related memory decline. The well-established benefits of early life education on reducing later risk for dementia has also given much credence to the theory that building a greater cognitive reserve capacity can help the brain compensate for injury—analagous to the concept that more cell phone towers equals fewer dropped calls. Furthermore, several brilliant neuroscientists have, in recent years, served as the designers of the best brain games on the market.

But there’s a crucial catch: most of these early studies were done on rodents. So lost in the brain game buzz is the obvious question: Are these claims true when it comes to human brain performance and aging? Can they really make your brain faster and stronger? Are there really better than the tried-and-true approach: remaining healthy, active, and engaged in the world around you? In other words, are they worth the money?

To date, more than 50 studies have examined the benefits of brain training in humans but only a handful have tested whether or not the benefits persist and transfer over to real life. Results from one of the best studies, published earlier this year in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, is certainly encouraging, however. As Glenn Smith of Mayo Clinic and her colleagues report, cognitively normal older adults who trained their brain were able to improve their auditory information processing speed by about 58 percent (versus 7 percent in controls). In their multi-center IMPACT trial, 487 adults ages 67 to 93 years worked for eight weeks at Posit Science’s Brain Fitness Program, which seeks to improve brain function by stimulating the auditory system. The Posit Science program is premised on the idea that as we get older our brains become less efficient at processing information from the senses (not because of specific hearing or vision loss but because of degenerative changes in the brain’s associative cortex), which then leads to a decline in memory. The control group did a more conventional cognitive learning program that entailed viewing educational videos on art and history. At the end of the study the brain training group also demonstrated more gains on measures of overall cognition and memory than the control group, but the differences were less impressive (4 percent versus 2 percent improvement). Forty-eight percent of people in the active training group (versus 40 percent of controls) also reported positive changes in their daily life such as greater self-confidence, better recall of shopping lists and attending to conversations in noisy settings. “

I personally think it matters more that you are actively thinking, and enjoying it. I happen to enjoy PC games. Someone else might do better with card games. Just like exercise, it won’t work if you don’t put in the hours. I like leveling up and seeing my trends across time.

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