August 12-18, 2019
By Nan Selz
Executive Council, AARP Arkansas
Beware: Anti-dementia puzzles, games
We all want to do everything possible to remain mentally sharp as we age. A previous column explored the misleading advertising promising that dietary supplements are the key to memory enhancement. However, supplements are not the only industry promising to improve mental fitness. There are also a multitude of ads for memory-enhancing games, puzzles and similar programs in print, online and on TV. These activities are harmless, unless they cause you to ignore the lifestyle factors that are far more likely to reduce the risk or delay the onset of dementia.
The good news is that these activities can be preferable to more passive ones, such as watching TV. Dr. Yonas E. Geda, a psychiatrist and behavioral neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, published the results of a study in the January 2017 issue of JAMA Neurology. Dr. Geda followed nearly 2,000 cognitively normal people 70 years of age or older for an average of four years. After taking into account their sex, age and educational level, he found that computer use decreased the participants’ risk of cognitive impairment by 30 percent, engaging in crafts decreased it by 28 percent and playing games decreased it by 22 percent.
Dr. Geda’s research discovered that the frequency of such activities played a part in his results. Subjects who participated in brain stimulating activities weekly or more often experienced less cognitive decline than those who participated in the same activities three or fewer times a month. Social engagement was also a positive factor – those who played with other people showed better results. But Dr. Geda’s research did not find that these so-called mind-enhancing games were able to live up to their advertised claims.
In 2016, the Federal Trade Commission charged that advertising for Lumosity games deceived consumers with unfounded claims that the games could help customers perform better at work and in school and reduce or delay cognitive impairment associated with age or serious health issues. Luminosity’s parent company, Lumos Labs, was forced to pay a $2 million fine, to notify subscribers of the FTC action, and to make it easy for them to cancel their automatic renewals and avoid future billings.
Pursuing “brain-training” activities can make us better at the games themselves, but they don’t provide the benefits they claim to offer. Instead, we should focus on lifestyle, making sure we eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep in order to enhance our mental and physical well-being.
For more information on brain health, go to firstname.lastname@example.org