‘The flame is not so bright to itself as to those on whom it shines: so too the wise man.’ —Nietzsche


Starting at age 55, our hippocampus, a brain region critical to memory, shrinks 1 to 2 percent every year, to say nothing of the fact that one in nine people age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s disease. The number afflicted is expected to grow rapidly as the baby boom generation ages. Given these grim statistics, it’s no wonder that Americans are a captive market for anything, from supposed smart drugs and supplements to brain training, that promises to boost normal mental functioning or to stem its all-too-common decline. […]

A few years back, a joint study by BBC and Cambridge University neuroscientists put brain training to the test. Their question was this: Do brain gymnastics actually make you smarter, or do they just make you better at doing a specific task? […] All subjects took a benchmark cognitive test, a kind of modified I.Q. test, at the beginning and at the end of the study. Although improvements were observed in every cognitive task that was practiced, there was no evidence that brain training made people smarter.

There was, however a glimmer of hope for subjects age 60 and above. Unlike the younger participants, older subjects showed a significant improvement in verbal reasoning, one of the components of the benchmark test, after just six weeks of brain training, so the older subjects continued in a follow-up study for a full 12 months.

Results of this follow-up study, soon to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, generally show that continued brain training helps older subjects maintain the improvement in verbal reasoning seen in the earlier study. This is good news because it suggests that brain exercise might delay some of the effects of aging on the brain.

{ NY Times | Continue reading }