Brain-training games do more harm than good
Brain-training games 'do more harm than good'
Brain-training computer games could do more harm than good, researchers have warned.
Last Updated: 7:14AM GMT 11 Feb 2009
Patrick Stewart and Julie Walters use a Nintendo DS for brain-training
The popularity of the games, which can be played on hand-held consoles by firms such as Nintendo, are also unlikely to help keep Alzheimer's at bay.
If healthy older users neglect the proven benefits of physical exercise in favour of the games then they could be harming their health, according to a study commissioned by US health organisation Lifespan and published in the health journal Alzheimer's & Dementia.
It found "no evidence... brain exercise programmes delay or slow progression of cognitive changes in healthy elderly."
Researchers also concluded that more research was needed into the long-term impact of brain training games, which are advertised in high profile campaigns fronted by Nicole Kidman, Julie Walters and Patrick Stewart among others.
The study looked at trials undertaken since 1992 on the impact of brain exercises, known as cognitive training, on the elderly.
Lead researcher Peter Snyder, professor of clinical neurosciences, said a global business had developed in brain training products without robust proof that they worked.
In America the cognitive training industry is worth around £55 million a year, compared to less than £1.5 million in 2005, including sales of over 100 million Nintendo DS consoles which feature number and word puzzles.
Prof Snyder, of Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Providence, said: "Brain ageing products sold today can be a financial drain, decrease participation in more proven effective lifestyle interventions, like exercise."
He added that they could also give false hope to the "worried well" about the chances of holding back the onset of mental decline.
Some products have actually been marketed as weapons in the fight against Alzheimer's disease, he said, but there is little real proof of this.
Neil Hunt, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society, told the Daily Mail: "One million people will develop dementia in the next 10 years so there is a desperate need to find ways to prevent dementia.
"The idea that 'brain training' may prevent cognitive decline is extremely attractive, but worryingly there is only very limited evidence.
"Currently the best evidence is that what is good for your heart is good for your head so eating plenty of fruit and vegetables; taking regular exercise and checking your cholesterol will all help reduce your risk."
French researchers last month found brain training games were no better than a pen and paper at stimulating memory and improving brain power.
The study of 67 schoolchildren aged 10 found homework, reading, playing puzzles such as Sudoku and board games such as Scrabble were just as good, if not better than, brain training games.
A spokesman for Nintendo said the games in the "Brain Training" and "More Brain Training" range were inspired by exercises developed by neurologist Dr Kawashima, "who believes the brain needs to be exercised to help stay fit in the same way our bodies need exercise to stay in shape".
He added: "Nintendo does not make any claims that 'Brain Training' is scientifically proven to improve cognitive function."