Brain Training: What is it and does it work?

In July, I spent ten days at an ashram taking an immersion program in preparation for yoga teacher training. In this particular tradition, the teacher is provided with a script that must be memorized prior to certification. The program is structured to maximize learning the script, but I have found myself stressed to my utmost in my efforts to memorize this sequence of 29 postures and the two paragraphs of instructions that go with each one.

Memorization has never been my favorite type of learning. It is good that I did not need to memorize too much to complete my Ph.D. Comprehension is my strong suit. I am great with concepts…learning and expressing them. I am not so good with word-for-word memorization. As a student, I did this by repetition and rehearsal. I did oratory and debate in high school and, with lots of work, I was able to memorize my speeches when appropriate. Besides, I had written them, so they were my thoughts and words. Memorizing my lines in a play was always harder. Memorizing lists of terms and their definitions was my least favorite, but usually successfully done task.

Then my brain aged. Thank goodness for that; it certainly beats the alternative. However, the aging of my brain has manifested itself most obviously in struggles with remembering things. I use a reminder app on my telephone for day-to-day things, and it is very effective. I use a calendar with alarms for appointments. I do not usually miss things I have scheduled or reminded myself to do. But memorizing a large number of someone else’s words is proving to be very difficult for me.

In June, Monica Oss of Open Minds wrote an article summarizing some of the presentations and discussion at their June 2014 conference Technology for Better Brains: The Rise of New Treatments Based on Brain Science Innovation. The presenters were from Neuronetics, providers of Neurostar TMS Therapy® (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation) and the Center for Life Management, an organization that uses this system; Brain Resources, Inc., a company that markets assessments and brain training tools; and Posit Science, the developers of brainHQ. Obviously, these individuals are all selling something, so I would want to know a bit more about the science before I buy.

In February, we had a visitor who had a concussion last Fall. She is a physician in her late 50’s who was told to rest her brain entirely to allow it to heal and recover. After a couple of months of rest, she was allowed to begin some brain rehabilitation. Now, she does brain exercises daily at a website called lumosity.com. She has found them to be most helpful. I take this first hand experience seriously coming from a physician who does not have a vested interest in the process.

I have not yet signed up for their program or any of the others, but I am very curious. I wonder what experience and information any of you have about these systems. I know we have neuropsychologists who read this blog. What is your take on brain training? Does the science support the sales? My ailing memory wants to know!

Please share any information or experience you might have with any brain training systems or with Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. Just enter your comments below.

 

One thought on “Brain Training: What is it and does it work?

  • The neuropsychologists I know tell me that this is quackery – and that there is no evidence that suggests such programs generalize. It seems like doing crossword puzzles may in fact be more useful from an anectdotal viewpoint!

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