Brain games: A great defense against Alzheimer’s

Jun 7, 2010 at 3:02 p.m. ET

There is a growing unease about Alzheimer's disease. As the large baby boomer population continues to mature, Alzheimer's will increasingly impact our lives. Millions of people already have the brain-degenerative disease and, for those over the age of 65, Alzheimer’s is the fifth leading cause of death. When it comes to your brain, you really do need to use it or lose it. Here’s what you need to know about Alzheimer’s disease and how to ward off cognitive decline through games that train your brain.

Mature woman on computer

According to the Alzheimer's Association 2010 Facts and Figures report, 5.3 million people in the US already have the disease. From 2000 to 2006, Alzheimer's disease deaths increased 46.1 percent (while death from other major diseases decreased). One theory for the disproportionate rise in Alzheimer's is that while many diseases benefit from public awareness, Alzheimer's has just recently started to garner attention. Currently Alzheimer's is the fifth leading cause of death for those over age 65. Researchers and scientists are still striving towards a cure but the prevalence of this disease broadens the focus from merely treatment options to developing preventive strategies, such as brain games.

Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's is a degenerative cognitive disease. It is a form of dementia that affects both brain functionality and cognizance. The first symptoms of Alzheimer's are usually noticed as forgetfulness. Once the disease progresses it becomes clear that the person's short-term memory is failing. The disease may continue to progress to affect all aspects of cognition. It is believed that memory loss from Alzheimer's is a result of neurons tangling with each other, which ultimately stops the neurons from working properly.

The importance of Cognitive Reserve

Cognitive reserve is a term that describes your brain's resilience to neuropathological damage. In the last decade there is a growing body of scientific research that suggests that there are ways you can enhance brain function and increase this reserve. One of the methods cited frequently, especially for seniors, is engaging in cognitively-rich activities. This can be achieved through consistent engagement with interactive brain games that stimulate a multitude of cognitive functions.

Interactive Brain Games boost brain fitness

There is not an ethically minded brain fitness company that will make the claim that brain fitness programs are a cure for Alzheimer's disease; in fact, there is no known cure for Alzheimer's. However, there is significant evidence that playing certain types of brain games contribute to building up your cognitive reserve. As we age, building and maintaining this reserve is one of our best defenses in risk management against Alzheimer's. When it comes to the brain, it really is a use it or lose it scenario. Science shows that new neural pathways are more likely to be formed when you engage in new, novel, challenging activities that require you to learn new tasks.

Brain Game Criteria

If strengthening your cognition through brain games interests you, there is certain criteria that you should look for to ensure that your time and money is well spent.

1. Choose games that challenge major cognitive functions

First, make sure that the games engage all of your brain's systems. It is important that all five major cognitive functions are being addressed.

The five major cognitive functions are:

  • Language
  • Memory
  • Attention
  • Visual Spatial Skills
  • Executive Function

2. Choose games that offer variety and time constraints

It is also important that the gaming platform you choose provides significant game variation and time constraints. Similar to weight training, if the brain games become too routine, new neural pathways are less likely to form (hindering any improvement in your cognitive reserve). Brain games should challenge you to perform at your peak at all times, and they should be designed to emulate cognitive skills used in the real world.

3. Choose games that meet your demographic

A good brain gaming platform will facilitate self-adapting levels based on your assessed ability. This should happen in real time so that when you are playing your overall experience is optimized. The program should also normalize the game level to your peer demographic group (age, gender, and education) for personal relevancy.

4. Choose games that are fun for you

And finally, the games should be fun so that you enjoy yourself and are encouraged to continue to practice. To maximize your benefit, you will need to incorporate brain training into your daily routine, and a platform that is not entertaining will make the experience cumbersome.

A well-rounded approach is key for warding off Alzheimer's

There are many important factors in attempting to ward off Alzheimer's disease. Sleep, physical exercise, socialization, stress management and balanced nutrition are all important elements. Brain games are simply another vital tool in the preventative toolbox. A well rounded approach of treating your body right, keeping yourself physically healthy, and building your cognitive reserve through the consistent use of brain games is the best preparation in the fight against Alzheimer's disease.

For more information on brain fitness programs, visit

More ways to train your brain & prevent Alzheimer's disease