Remember when it was enough to merely tease your brain with puzzles? No more. In the 21st century, it's all about brain training.A growing variety of electronic products are targeting consumer anxiety over the aging mind. And we're buying what they're selling: The Brain Age game alone has sold at least 17 million copies worldwide since its launch nearly three years ago in Japan.While the science attached to many such games points to immediate stimulation of the brain, there's little, if any, evidence indicating long-term results."It's hard for anybody to say that a specific amount of exposure to any of the things on the market is going to benefit them many years down the line," said Marilyn S. Albert, a professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who helped pioneer studies in the mid-1990s on the maintenance of cognitive function. "But there's no downside to being mentally active. Nobody thinks (brain games) are going to do anyone harm."Those games include old-fashioned, pencil-on-paper brain teasers."I do crosswords a little bit, but my daughter does them more than I do. So does my mother - and she's about 95," Dr. Albert said.Hoping you'll be as sharp when you reach that age? Here's a look at the various products aiming to catch your mind's eye.
Handheld gamesGet smart: Since the monster success of Brain Age, Nintendo's pocket-size, touch-screen DS system has gained a small stable of games aimed at brain-building. Big Brain Academy (also available for the home Wii console), Brain Age 2, Flash Focus, Your Word Coach and other titles promise activity to keep your mind agile.Upside: Great portability - perfect for tucking into your carry- on bag when flying - and sharp, engaging graphics. Hard to beat for the fun factor. Based on your performance, the Brain Age games calculate the age of your brain; it probably won't surprise you that this varies from day to day.Downside: The trouble lies in the daily "training" these games encourage: Familiarity breeds boredom.Cost: About $120 for the DS Lite, $20 to $30 for most game titlesWeb-based applicationsGet smart: If you have a PC with Internet access, you have all the equipment you need to access mental exercises at such sites as happy-neuron.com and lumosity.com. You'll pay a monthly or yearly subscription to access the multimedia puzzles and exercises.Upside: Although not as playfully designed as the Nintendo DS titles, they're still fun. Typically, the sites offer a wider variety of games than individual video-game titles. You'll probably find your PC monitor screen easier to read. Subscriptions can be given as gifts. Try them out online first.
Downside: When you're without Web access, you're without your training gear. If your Internet connection is slow, you might get frustrated when switching between games.
Cost: Happy Neuron, $9.95 monthly, $99.95 yearly; Lumosity, $24.95 for a three-month membership, $79.95 for a one-year membership
Get smart: A one-time purchase gets you some serious brain training, with games tailored for various cognitive functions. MindFit is specifically aimed at ages 45 and older; Brain Fitness Program 2.0 was the overall winner of a recent Wall Street Journal product test.
Advantages: No need for an Internet connection; wide variety of stimulating exercises. Test games online before buying.
Disadvantages: Playing these feels a bit more like taking your medicine than enjoying a puzzle. They're also not cheap.
Cost: MindFit, $139 for download, $149 CD-ROM, e-mind fitness.com; Brain Fitness Program 2.0, $395, positscience.com
Puzzles in print
Get smart: Look for the crossword puzzle in today's paper. If you're looking for a different style of brain-busters that you can curl up with at night, try The Big Book of Brain Games: 1,000 PlayThinks of Art, Mathematics & Science, by Ivan Moscovich.
Advantages: Old-fashioned portability and no need for batteries or an Internet connection
Disadvantages: No motion or sound, unlike the computer-based products (though some people might find that an advantage).
Originally published by Jay Dedrick Scripps Howard.
(c) 2008 Augusta Chronicle, The. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.