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.
Cognifit markets itself as an extremely personalized tool for brain fitness. It uses your performance in different brain games to assess your cognitive status, then creates a personalized training regimen from its data. A 2008 study using Cognifit found that it improved the cognitive abilities of older adults greater than computer games like Tetris and Snake. [free; iOS 7.0+]