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Your Brain Games for Memory Aren’t Helping You. Here’s Why…

aging attention brain health memory health Sep 27, 2022
brain games for memory

Use it or lose it.

This is as true for your memory as it is for your muscles. But what exactly is the best way to use it? Can brain games really help you stay sharp? Are crossword puzzles good for your brain?

You may have been led to believe that crossword puzzles and sudoku games are the way to go to ‘stay sharp’ as you age. And there is certainly no harm in doing a daily puzzle. However, before you go all in on your NY times crossword puzzle or reopen your Words Against Friends app read this.

Brain games alone are the least effective way to support your memory.

The myth that puzzles or brain games will improve your memory or decrease your risk of dementia has been perpetuated for far too long with very little evidence to support it. While I totally understand why it's easy to believe brain games can help, it's causing you to miss the bigger picture. Brain games are fun and easy to add into your life. 

But the truth is that if you do a lot of crossword puzzles, you will only get better at doing crossword puzzles. Significant cognitive improvement and carryover isn’t likely from a word game. It’s simply an incomplete strategy. That’s because you are retrieving information you’ve already learned.

And in order to build a bigger, dementia-resistant brain, you must build up your cognitive reserve.

What is your cognitive reserve and how do you increase it?

Your cognitive reserve is your brain’s network. The more connections it has, the stronger and more resilient it is.

Think of a rope and its fibers. The more fibers a rope has, the stronger the rope will become. If the rope is thick and full, it’s less likely to succumb to a few fibers deteriorating over time. However, if the rope is thin and frail, the more vulnerable it becomes to devastation when fibers begin to wither or snap.

Similarly, your brain uses your cognitive reserve to protect you against neurological diseases. Every time you learn something new, new neural connections are created which improves your capacity to remember and to fight against disease.

Highly educated people have more cognitive reserve due to their abundance of neural connections, therefore buffering them from cognitive decline.

The Best Mental Exercises to Stay Sharp and Prevent Impairment in Memory

The best brain exercises involve acquiring new knowledge and doing things you have never done before. Even if you do highly engaging or complex tasks daily, over time your brain becomes used to it and it won’t help you as much as learning something new.

As Dr. Amen says in his book, Memory Rescue, “Whenever the brain does something over and over, it learns how to do it using less and less energy.”

But new learning establishes new connections, at any age. Ideally, we want these new experiences to be as rich and as meaningful as possible. Aiming for activities that incorporate your senses and different parts of your brain is the most effective way to stay sharp and prevent impairment in memory as you age.

Although learning may take a bit more effort as you grow older, your brain can always change for the better, especially when you keep it healthy with mental engagement, new learning, exercise, a brain-healthy diet, and compassion.

Push Aside the Brain Games for Memory and Aim for Whole-Brain Workouts Instead

Your brain is divided into sections known as lobes. Each lobe of the brain is responsible for different functions. The parts of your brain that you use will grow. Simultaneously, the parts of your brain you do not use will shrink. Use it or lose it.

This tells us that just doing a crossword puzzle, is like exercising one finger and expecting your entire arm to get stronger. It’s leaving a lot out. Combining mental exercise with physical exercise that turns on different parts of your brain is essential for keeping both your mind and body strong.

Here are some ways to boost your brain and memory:

  • Dedicate yourself to new learning every day. Read a book, pick a new hobby, enroll in a class, or sign up for a new sport. The options are endless, and the benefits are worthwhile.
  • Alter daily routines. Remember, novelty is key which means routines that are never interrupted throw you into autopilot mode. Exit autopilot by challenging yourself with something new.
  • Travel to new places. Exposing yourself to new immersive experiences is a great way to boost your brain power.
  • Use music in your training. If you’re doing light exercise, incorporate music to engage another part of your brain.
  • Engage in mental training exercises like learned mindfulness. Become consciously aware of the moment, including all sensory input and the emotions surrounding.
  • Teach something you know. Instructing someone on how to do something provides connection, new learning, and new thinking patterns. It also helps solidify your knowledge!

Brain Games for Memory

There is a whole word of new and rich experiences out there waiting for you! My hope is that by reading this article, you’ll feel inspired to go beyond the brain games for memory and find what truly brings you joy and gratification in life while helping you stay sharp.

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*This article may contain affiliate links.

Struggling with your memory?

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Francine has her Bachelor of Arts in Communication Sciences and Disorders and her Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) from the University of South Florida. She also attended the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) where she became an Integrative Health and Nutrition Coach.

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