Monday, May 12, 2008

Brain Games

Hello- apologies for the long time since the last post. I was on vacation in Peru, which was a wonderful experience. Lima is bustling and busy, with the gorgeous Pacific ocean right there (leading to amazing ceviche!). Cusco, up in the highlands, shows off its snow-capped mountains. Out in the Andean countryside, there are llamas and alpacas, and women carrying babies in woven blankets on their backs. I could never get Jasper (who turns one this week, by the way) to stay in a sling, so I was impressed. The country is both poor in parts and rich in parts. It is thoroughly modern in places (like downtown Lima) but in small villages, the people don't even speak Spanish. They speak the native languages their ancestors spoke before the Spanish conquered the Incas, and pretty much live life as they always have too.

Anyway, one of the great things about travel is it forces your brain to work. You figure out Spanish words on signs, you figure out how to communicate when you don't share a language, and new experiences forge new connections in your brain. In other words, your brain gets a bit of exercise!

This concept has actually been in the news a lot lately. As our society ages, people are increasingly concerned about diseases such as Alzheimer's and the general deterioration of the brain as we age. A few studies have suggested that we can do a few things to preserve brain function. The most important is probably physical exercise. Living a creative life that forces you to think is another.

But there's not much obvious money to be made on those (well, there's a whole industry of commercial gyms, but most people don't go there for their brains!) So enterprising folks turn to another potential brain booster: brain games.

I've just spent the past half hour test driving an online brain game site called Happy Neuron. The company charges about $10 a month for access to 1500 hours of brain games that range from deciphering quotes when each letter is replaced by a certain symbol, to pairing letter-clusters together from a grid to make words. No sooner had I played this for a while (getting absolutely stumped that "me" and "li" could combine to make "lime")than I stopped by the Scientific American website, and saw an ad for another such site called Lumosity. This site also charges $10 a month, and like Happy Neuron, is backed by a team of psychologists and brain researchers.

I am sure there is a free site with similar games out there, and I'd love to hear about it. But anyway, the experience got me thinking. We don't spend much time as adults pondering whether we're challenged in given situations. We don't set aside seven hours a day or so to try to learn. Children have to go to school, and so we worry about whether they're reaching their potential, and whether their classes are meeting their needs. But we don't give much thought to whether adults are reaching their potential. I'm curious what readers of this blog do to keep their adult minds in the kind of tip-top shape that we expect of younger people.


Dan said...

I play video games.

Actually, the Nintendo DS has a couple of "Brain Age" games designed to do just that. Also, I am playing "Professor Layton and the Curious Village" currently. It is a collection of puzzles executed quite well on the handheld system.

Anonymous said...

I'm a university professor, so to keep my mind active I do research, write computer programs, supervise grad students (helping them debug their work), sit in on classes in fields I did not study as a student, and attend at least one research seminar a week.

mcole said...


You can try Fit Brains, as it has more polished brain games than the companies you mentioned (Currently, free too). Our complete brain fitness platform will launch on June 1 as well. The goal is to provide an engaging experience that gets people to stick with it over the long haul.


Michael Cole

LaRita said...

I like to do the Sunday crossword puzzle. And now my kids have started getting into doing it with me. I set it out on the dining room table and as we eat supper, everyone urges me to read clues out loud and tries to come up with the answers. It sometimes takes us a day, and sometimes all week to complete a puzzle.

Kim Moldofsky said...

I received a copy of Brain Age from Nintendo. I had my carpool group (three boys ages 8-10) play it on a Nintendo DS the way to school. The were all quiet (hooray!) and focused on the tasks. We normally have strict limits on the DS use, but if they are happy playing brain games, maybe I'll be a little less flexible.

Though I've also realized that with the Pokemon games they love so deraly, they have to make mental maps, memorize the various characters and their unique strengths and weaknesses. It's definitely not the "pong" of our youth!