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Brain Training: How to Stay Sharp in Midlife and Beyond

Brain Training: How to Stay Sharp in Midlife and Beyond
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BY MYRA FAYE TURNER

It’s been said that if you don’t use it you lose it. You exercise your body, so why aren’t you exercising your brain? Especially when there’s so many benefits from flexing your brain muscles, including improved memory, increased cognitive ability, and sharpened focus. Training helps you think quicker, learn better and can improve your listening skills. Although you could spend hours playing Words with Friends, Candy Crush and Crossy Roads—and don’t get me wrong, those games are fun— if you want to make sure your brain cells get a decent workout, you should incorporate brain training into your daily routine.

Where do you start? Well, I’ve done the hard work for you. I have carefully examined hundreds of apps and online sites —okay, maybe not hundreds, it was more like twenty — here are five top brain training resources to get you started.

Lumosity

Lumosity offers scientifically backed brain training. You’ll start first by creating an account and then take a fit test to get your baseline. This information will measure how well you compare with others in your age group. The three tests measure important cognitive skills like speed, memory, problem solving and attention to detail. Once your baseline is established, you can return daily and train with new games.

As with most apps there are paid and free options. The benefit to a paid membership is having unlimited access to all of the games in the vault. There are over 50 games currently available— some have been adapted, others are newly created. For most people, the free option works fine, especially if combined with other brain games. You’ll get three rotating free games daily as part of your training. Paid plans currently start at $5.00 monthly (paid in advance @ $59.95) or $11.95 if paid month-to-month.

Games include:

  • Memory Matrix, where you will have to recall patterns on tiles
  • Raindrops, which requires you to quickly solve mathematical calculations, and
  • Speed Match, which challenges you to determine quickly if a symbol matches the previous one

You have the option of training online at Lumosity’s website, or you can download the app for your iPhone , iPad and for Android devices. 

Memorado

With Memorado, you’ll also take a fitness assessment after setting up your account and creating your profile. The assessment focuses on three areas: logic, memory and concentration.

Once you complete your assessment, you receive a Brain Quotient that shows how well you performed compared to your age group, how well participants fared after 4 weeks of training and the highest score for any user within your age group.

There are two membership structures. Free membership allows you to train your brain on three challenging and fun games daily. That’s enough to keep you mentally sharp and as noted above, when combined with other apps, you can get a nice workout daily. Paid membership entitles you to several perks including unlimited access to over 20 games. Premium memberships cost $2.16 a month or $16.29 annually. You can also connect with your Facebook friends (or total strangers) to challenge them to a brain duel.

One of the games I love is Colored Confusion. Your challenge is to decide whether the definition on top matches the color on the bottom. For example, you may see the word RED in blue lettering, with the color red on the bottom. Trust me, although you’re reading RED, the fact that it’s in blue lettering can trip you up if you don’t pay attention. The online and app version of this game is slightly different. In the app version, you’re asked “Does the meaning of the word match it’s font color?” So again, you’ll have the word BLUE, for example, but the color might be green.

You can get Memorado for the Android or iOS systems. 

Khan Academy

Khan Academy is a different type of brain training environment but one you should definitely check out. It’s a popular site for students, which is how I first became acquainted with it several years ago through my son’s school. But, there’s tons of information that anyone can access. The best part? It’s free. Not free in the here’s some free stuff, now pay us more money to access more stuff kind of free. But totally, 100% free.

What I like about the site is there’s a wide range of subjects for users to peruse and learn from including math, science, and arts and humanities. They also offer partner content from institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NOVA Labs and NASA. Pixar in a Box offers real-life challenges that teach you how to animate your own project. And if you’ve ever wanted to learn how to code, Khan offers an excellent program called the Hour of Code.

Khan’s bite-sized videos are fun and informative. You may not want to learn about algebra, but the math section includes some interesting brain teaser videos. Viewers are presented with a teaser and then asked to pause the video to work the problem out for themselves. Once you resume, the presenter works out the teaser in detail.

If you really want to get those brain juices flowing, definitely stop by Khan.

Peak

Like other apps I reviewed, Peak tests your brain fitness before designing a workout plan for you. Google designated Peak one of the Best Android Apps in 2015. You can download it for the Android or iOS systems.

Your fitness assessment will determine your current level and help to create your personalized training program. The four areas tested are language, memory, problem solving and focus. Each day you get four new challenges in the free version, or you can upgrade and have unlimited access to 30 games. Plans start at $4.99 per month.

One of the things I like about Peak is you can check your performance, not only with you own age group, but also with people in your profession (or another profession). My favorite brain game is Baggage Claim. You’re asked to memorize a list of cities, then perform an unrelated task. Next, you’re asked to recall as many of the original cities as you can, thus testing how well you recall after doing a totally unrelated task.

Elevate

Elevate’s cognitive training tool is designed to build communication and analytical skills. This popular app has been downloaded more than 10 million times in the Apple Store and on Google Play. It was also Apple’s 2014 App of the Year.

After taking a short test your personalized training experience will begin. Your training adjusts over time based on your performance. You will receive an EPQ —Elevate Proficiency Quotient —based on your score from the initial assessment. The EPQ ranges from 0 to 5000 and rates you as either a novice, intermediate, advanced, expert or master player.

The assessment measures your writing, listening, speaking, reading and math skills. Daily workout consist of three challenges. Pro users can upgrade ($7.99 a month) if they want unlimited access to the more than 35 games and other tools available.

Games include Memory, which displays a definition and challenges you to quickly type in the missing word and ABC, a fast-moving spelling challenge.

Some of the apps I tested appear, at first glance, quite simple. However, be warned, several of the games are more challenging than you think. Pay close attention to the instructions and watch the tutorials before you begin.

Keep in mind that some of the games are also timed so you’ll need to think quickly. Others have levels that start out simple and then get progressively harder difficult. Finally, you’ll definitely want peace and quiet while you train. My son barged into my office (even though I had my ‘Do Not Disturb Sign’ on my door) while I was finalizing this article and caused me to make an error on one of the games. I would have had a perfect score otherwise.

 

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