Do you like games? Do you think games can increase memory skills? Well…some can!
Now, right off the bat, I’ll say that games in general do help plenty of skills (e.g., movement, critical thinking, organization, creativity, etc.). However, not all games will help in the same way. The games I will be talking about today will be specifically to increase memory processes (perhaps so we don’t end up like Dory from this post).
The games I will talk about fall under the general category of “brain games.” In the study I will be referencing, these games were also compared to other games like solitaire, action games, The Sims, and Tetris. And, the brain games did BETTER in improving memory compared to these other types of games.
I’ll have a list of games at the end of this post if you are interested.
Also, I’ll say, I am fairly confident in these results, though you are also welcome to come to your own conclusions. Of course, even if I am confident in these results, there are still plenty of ways in which they won’t work for everyone and they also won’t necessarily change your life so completely and profoundly (at least not without a good amount of work first).
There were 16 studies in total with 774 people playing brain games and 769 playing other games for comparison purposes. One final note I want to mention before getting into the results more specifically is that, these participants were all 60 years and up. The studies were designed to see if brain games would specifically help older adults. It does, but it likely would also help younger adults too given other research that is out there.
Here is how it can help. I’ll use some jargon so you are aware of the scientific terms and then explain it in more detail. Brain games improve processing speed, working memory, executive function, and verbal memory. It did not, at least on average, help visuospatial performance and attention.
Processing speed example: Imagine you are listening to someone talk. They are talking and talking, and by the end of it you are like…”ok wait, what did you say?” And then in a few seconds, you gather your thoughts and finally understand. “Oh, ok, got it, sorry that took a while to piece it all together.” Well, if you can increase your processing speed, that lag time to understand what the other said would decrease.
The same applies to when we read. I know sometimes I read and I just don’t quite understand what happened unless I sit and think it through. You’ll be able to process those words on the page quicker with brain games.
This was also the strongest finding from within the research! Everything else I will talk about also did well, but it was about half as effective.
Working memory example: When thinking about working memory, we can remember it as a place in our brain where we can hold multiple pieces of information and think them through. We can also piece things together or try to consciously remember the things are in working memory.
If someone asks you to pick up bananas, apples, grapes, Lysol wipes, Windex, and band-aids from the store, you will have them in working memory as you try to remember these items. However, you don’t just have to keep repeating them over and over in your head, instead you can also consolidate information or make connections between them. You may make groups and remind yourself that you need to pick up fruits, cleaning products, and first-aid from the store. You may also start to think to yourself, “I can’t wait to let my partner make their famous fruit salad which has these 3 key ingredients. It is a MESS however, so I need to make sure there are cleaning products. My partner is also clumsy, perhaps some band-aids would be good, just in case.”
This all happened within working memory. Amazing. Someone with working memory issues may not be able to do all of this, at least not as well. Maybe they try to repeat the list and remember bananas and Lysol wipes, but can’t quite pull up the information about apples and grapes as well as Windex. Or they say they need fruits, but then by the time they are at the store, they completely forget it and only remember the cleaning and first-aid items.
Brain games help improve working memory.
Executive functioning example: One primary function of executive functioning is the idea of organization and prioritization of things you want to do. It helps us figure out what is important and when to do these important things. This concept is also very tied to working memory, so it makes sense that both of these aspects of memory are increased.
If you have a list of tasks to do, how do you know what to do first? Maybe you need to grocery shop, clean the bathroom, write a blog, and respond to some very nice people on Medium (this may or may not be my actual list of things I need to do right now).
Someone with executive functioning issues may approach that list and 1) be overwhelmed and 2) start and stop the list without completing tasks. For example, they may start writing the blog, and as they write, they realize they forgot to respond to someone. They may stop, and then respond to someone. And then they may go on their phone to respond to another friend they forgot to respond to. But, then, maybe they had to go to the bathroom. And they remember they still have to clean it, so they start cleaning it. They finish this, but then they are tired, and they can’t come back and continue the blog post or go grocery shopping.
Someone who had better executive functioning skills, potentially after playing brain games, would have ordered the tasks in such a way that would make sense for their lives and energy. This would have allowed them to stick to and complete all tasks.
Verbal memory example: The weakest of the effects, but still reliable, is how brain games increased verbal memory. We have different types of memory such as verbal, visual, and emotional. Just because you have good visual memory, doesn’t mean your verbal memory will be as good because they use different parts of the brain. So, when it comes to verbal memory, it is the idea that we can remember words, sentences, and ideas (which are usually thought through words…which are also just ideas themselves).
An increase in verbal memory might look like the following. Let’s say your boss asks you to send an email out to another coworker saying “We enjoyed the meeting today. It would be good to hear more of your thoughts regarding race relations within the office. Can we schedule another meeting relatively soon? We’ll also prepare more information for you so we can talk about the specifics of our team.”
Quite a mouthful. But ok, so you go back to your computer and start writing this email. You have the basic sentiment, but some of the specifics get a bit blundered. Your email reads, “I enjoyed our meeting today. I would like to hear more about racism. Can we schedule another meeting to talk more? Can we give you any other helpful information for this next meeting?”
The content is similar in these two instances, but the words and sentences definitely change as well as some of the ideas. Memory is tough, but we can improve it with some practice!
Visuospatial performance example: This type of memory relates to images and how to rotate them in our mind. In order to do this, you need to have the image clearly in your memory and a good understanding of how it looks in a 3D space.
If you saw something, let’s say a picture, and then have to draw it, that is heavily relying on visuospatial performance. It can also be active things like simply walking around your house, picking out clothes from your closet, or making your bed. It is a very important aspect of memory.
Yet, it is not improved by these brain games. However, I will say, there are games out there that seem to work. I don’t know much about them, but they likely tailor their games more toward images and rotations rather than other general skills or reading. If you are curious, you can check out Peak Wizard and Peak Decoder.
The last thing I promised here was a list of the games. Here they are:
1. Cognitift.com has assessments, games, and lectures for you. They also personalize everything based on your performance. However, it is $119.99 a year.
2. Big Brain Academy – a game for the Wii. The game itself is about $30 as long as you have a Wii already. People do seem to really like this, at least on Amazon.
3. Luminosity – an app that people also seem to really like. It can be free and you can get up to 3 games a day, some personalization, and tests.
4. Dakim Brain Fitness – this is more for a company to use if they have a senior home or something and a lot of people they want to help. It is $3500 a year, but it works (according to research).
It could potentially be pretty easy and maybe even fun to prevent a good amount of dementia cases which is going to be a continually growing issue in society unless we do something about it…and WE CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
Until next time.