Technology… it’s all around us every day and more people are exposed to technology at an earlier age than ever before. Some say that it is not uncommon for kids to carry smartphones by the age of 10. Social media and tech companies such as Google, Facebook, Instagram and a plethora of others are vying for our attention and know how to keep people coming back. With so much technology coming at us, it stands to reason that the effects of all that technology on our health and well being would be a hot topic. And it is. From studies that seek to find limits on screen time to research on how technology affects cognition, the studies keep on coming.
Conversely, several tech companies have sought to turn technology into a positive for brain health. Apps that “exercise” the brain are plentiful. Just as brain games were fairly standard when they started appearing, these apps have continued to evolve. A quick internet search will return thousands of hits for apps and programs that benefit the brain through games designed for kids, senior citizens, improving memory, mental health therapies and much more. In fact, apps for cognitive training has become a two-billion-dollar business.
Do They Work?
The companies that make and sell brain training or brain health apps claim that using their products will help improve memory, how fast we process information, give us better decision-making ability, etc. While many of these companies claim that their programs are backed by scientific evidence, the truth is that is rarely true. However, neuroscientists around the world are consistently testing the apps and their effects. In one study, neuroscientists tested a group of 128 young adults to compare the effects of brain training apps to playing video games or no games at all. The results found that there were no measurable benefits to using the apps. Another study showed that most brain training only improves how someone performs the specific tasks given through the app. But there is a positive takeaway.
The Power of Plasticity
Two brain training programs, BrainHQ and Cognifit, did show benefits for users in repeated studies. These apps, which focus on improving processing speed, does so by challenging the visual system. As the user gets faster and more accurate, the speed increases, pushing the brain to perform faster. The ability of the brain to adapt and speed up is called plasticity. Forming new pathways as the brain undergoes changes, plasticity is powerful. The new pathways can not only help you perform better on brain training apps but can also help heal the body. Stroke patients, Alzheimer’s patients and chronic pain sufferers to name a few are finding improvements in health and wellness through treatments that harness the power of the brain’s plasticity.