Do computerized brain-training programs really work? Will doing Sudoku or crossword puzzles help to ward off cognitive decline?

As we age, our brain (like the rest of our body) loses some of the agility it once had. Normal aging is associated with a slower processing speed and less efficient working memory in the brain. These age-related changes, however, are modest; they are very different than neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, scientists now know that our brains are able to adapt, change, and re-organize throughout our entire lives — a phenomenon known as “neuroplasticity”. This means our neurons (nerve cells) have the capacity to learn and re-wire, even into old age. An old brain can learn new tricks!

So maybe you’re still asking — will ‘brain training’ help to promote brain health? Buyer beware. The research on such programs is preliminary and should be considered with caution. The games and exercises designed to improve brain performance aim to use neuroplasticity to improve core cognitive abilities; however, it is unclear whether these effects translate to real-life performance or whether these interventions have any appreciable effect on preventing neurological diseases.

In reality, there are many far more compelling interventions that may help to stave off cognitive decline than brain games or mind teasers. For example, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a key component of neuroplasticity. Physical exercise and low-fat diets have been linked to increased production of BDNF and aid in neuroplasticity (Gomez-Pinilla, 2011). Want the most bang for your buck when it comes to brain health? Consider adopting a lifetsyle that incorporates regular physical exercise and a healthy, balanced diet.

Caution: There is still no proven method for preventing or delaying cognitive decline.


Gomez-Pinilla, F. G. (2011). Exercise impacts brain-derived neurotrophic factor plasticity by engaging mechanisms of epigenetic regulation.European Journal Of Neuroscience33(3), 383-390.

Smith, G. M. (2009). A Cognitive Training Program Based on Principles of Brain Plasticity: Results from the Improvement in Memory with Plasticity-based Adaptive Cognitive Training (IMPACT) Study. Journal Of The American Geriatrics Society57(4), 594-603.

Zelinski, E. M., Spina, L. M., Yaffe, K., Ruff, R., Kennison, R. F., Mahncke, H. W., & Smith, G. E. (2011). Improvement in memory with plasticity-based adaptive cognitive training: results of the 3-month follow-up. Journal Of The American Geriatrics Society59(2), 258-265. doi:10.1111/j.1532-5415.2010.03277.x