Thursday, November 20, 2008

Neuroplasticity and the effect of brain games

Norman Doidge writing at The New Humanist passes along a hopeful anecdote about brain training,
Dr Stanley Karansky was 90 years old when we spoke. He was a medic at D-Day. He practised medicine until he was 80. When he turned 89, he told me, he began to have trouble remembering names; he couldn’t register their auditory impressions clearly. He had trouble communicating and withdrew socially. He became less alert and had trouble driving. Then he began The Brain Fitness Program, developed by Merzenich, which sharpened his auditory processing. In six weeks, with an hour a day of brain exercise, Stanley’s age-related cognitive decline was reversed.
Yes there are some studies backing up many of his claims, and from the papers I have read there appears to be no concoction going on. I think that the idea of computer games actually improving mental health is so absurd that we should take these results more seriously.

But still, I do doubt that all of Stanley's age-related cognitive decline was reversed in just six weeks. This kind of embellished press might hurt the brain training industry in the long run, as consumers could expect too many immediate effects and be unwilling to commit to a serious program.