Every day developers are coming out with new apps that claim to make our lives easier, simpler, and altogether better. An especially attractive area for app-assisted living is cognitive improvement. Estimates vary but about 5.1 million Americans are believed to have Alzheimer's disease and that number is rising as our country ages. Whether we feel we're staring down this terrifying affliction or simply finding it harder to remember our grocery lists, the possibility of a $0.99 solution to brain troubles is attractive to just about everyone.
However, there are a lot of uncertainties about these apps, like whether they help at all and, if they do, how different they are from other simple interventions. "When you do anything that's novel and complex – something that's new and difficult – your brain really reacts in a favorable way," says Paul D. Nussbaum, neuropsychologist and founder of the Brain Health Center in Pennsylvania.
What your brains does in these special situations is create new neural pathways and connections that may help fight off the onset of brain health problems. Nussbaum emphasizes that this doesn't mean games can cure or prevent disease. He also says that any novel and complex activity – whether that's playing an app, leaning a new instrument, or even traveling – can likely help your brain fitness. Lastly, it's important to understand that even though some of these apps have science backing them up, it has yet to be definitively proven that they do much to improve general memory beyond the tasks they have users practice.
Brain Fitness Pro
This app claims that it can increase not only your memory and mental stamina but also your score on any intelligence or standardized test. It bases its claims on a 2008 study that used dual N-back exercises, which are used in the app. These exercises make participants recall things that are presented prior to other things. For example, if you were shown a series of three numbers and were asked the second number, that would be 1-back. The recalling the first number would be 2-back, and so on. Dual n-back exercises combine visual and aural stimuli. The study found a significant increase in fluid intelligence measures – basically the ability to solve novel problems – in people who trained with a dual n-back exercise. However, a newer study looking to duplicate these results found they only applied to the specific tasks the participants used in training. [$4; iOS]