May 01, 2019

Do brain training memory apps really work?

Q: Do brain training memory apps for smartphones work as advertised? I'm looking to slow the memory loss that I feel I've been experiencing.

A: There's some promising evidence that brain-training smartphone apps — with popular choices being Lumosity, BrainHQ, Elevate or Peak — may have a mild to moderate effect on improving memory and other types of thinking in older adults with age-related cognitive decline or those with mild cognitive impairment.

While brain-training apps may provide a boost, there's no substantial evidence that they can prevent or slow cognitive decline. They also don't seem to help people with cognitive decline that has progressed to dementia. There's also considerable debate as to whether brain-training apps simply make you better at the brain-training exercises or tests, or whether the improved cognition extends into tasks of everyday life.

Potential benefits of brain-training apps require a fair amount of work. They must be used regularly and fairly intensively, and the effects fade quickly if you stop. In one study in which a brain-training app improved memory and thinking speed, study participants used the app for one hour a day, five days a week for eight to 10 weeks.

Brain-training apps have important positives, such as being portable and easy to use. Most have a variety of activities, and the difficulty level increases as you improve.

If you're motivated to use braintraining apps — and don't mind paying for them — they're a reasonable way to try for a cognitive boost. However, you may prefer other forms of mental engagement and challenge — such as social activity, starting a new hobby or studying a foreign language — which...