Brain Games Popular; Experts Remain Skeptical

Max Goldberg recently tried to remember the name of a venture capital firm in California that was mentioned during a business meeting he had attended about a year ago.

There was no reason why Goldberg, 38, should have been able to remember the company. "I hadn't heard the name of the company or even thought about the company in over a year," he said.

But after only about 15 seconds of thinking, Goldberg had his "Aha!" moment: He remembered the company's name.

To most people, the idea of recalling an obscure company name that they hadn't thought of in more than a year seems nearly impossible -- especially for someone older than 30. But Goldberg says he has a secret tool that has aided his memory-recall abilities: He calls it "brain games."

For 10 minutes every morning for the past 40 days, Goldberg has been playing what is called "brain fitness games" on the Web site Lumosity.com. He says the small daily commitment to brain fitness has allowed him to improve vastly his day-to-day memory recall ability.

"I was having memory problems just like everyone else has at my age," Goldberg explained. "Using these games has given me a dramatic improvement in my memory. I'm able to recall names, places and companies that I couldn't remember in the past. And it surprises me I can remember these things and it's given me much greater confidence."

And, according to a recent Associated Press report on "brain fitness" games, Goldberg has plenty of company.

The brain fitness market has boomed in the past few years, growing in revenue by about $125 million between 2005 and 2007, according to a report released this year by SharpBrains, a research and advisory firm.

Web sites, books and computer and video games featuring brain fitness tools and games have spread like wildfire in recent years. Most of the products carry claims that using the brain fitness games can "improve memory and attention," or even "ward off Alzheimer's and dementia." But do they really work?

Most brain experts don't think so; they say there isn't much chance that any brain game or memory technique will people from developing Alzheimer's or dementia.

"For those who enjoy such games, fine," said Dr. Paul Aisen, director of the Memory Disorders Program at Georgetown University. "But there is no valid evidence that they preserve memory, and certainly no evidence that they ward off dementia."

Others have a much more negative view of such games. "This is a money-making scam, as far as I am concerned, when it comes to Alzheimer's and dementia," said Jo Ann O'Quinn, professor in the school of applied sciences at the University of Mississippi. "These are brain disorders that affect the most intelligent and mentally active people I have ever known, and I think it is an insult to many, to think that if they had done more brain exercises they might have been able to stave off the ravages of the disease."

Hard Evidence Lacking

There is no randomized, double-blind study to prove (or disprove) that these brain games can ward off cognitive decline, or even improve one's day-to-day ability to think and remember.

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