On a recent trip to my hometown I visited with both my ninety-two-year-old aunt and a long-time friend. What they had in common was dementia. In my aunt’s case, the dementia was initially evident fifteen years ago after a mini-stroke. While in good physical health, she constantly repeats her conversation. With my eighty-year-old friend, the memory loss is still subtle, but that, combined with failing vision, means she can no longer drive.
Saddened by their losses, I wondered what might help them retain the memory they still have and what I might do to keep my brain cells functioning well. Online I found mention of many games. The site, Alzheimers.net, listed their ten top brain exercises, as did the Huffington Post.
Lumosity was number one on both sites. This despite the two million dollars Lumosity had to pay in 2016 because of misleading advertising. The FCC and 69 brain scientists had insisted the result of using Lumosity does not support claims that their brain exercises make people smarter or stave off mental decline. (See the July 10, 2017 article by the Washington Post.)
What a current Lumosity site does say is that it improves working memory and stimulates brain cells when used daily. Lumosity’s popularity may be due to the people at the top who are good marketers. Lumosity is the product of Lumos Labs, founded in 2005 by Michael Scanlon, a Stanford Ph.D. student in neuroscience who had family members with Alzheimer’s disease, David Drescher, and Konal Sarkar. Sarkar is now director of the board and Stephen Berkowitz is CEO as of 2015. Launched online in 2007, Lumosity’s exercises were based on the brain’s neuroplasticity, that the adult brain, with challenging exercises could grow new neurons or connections. The company grew rapidly and claimed 70 million people in 182 countries had played their games.
In a January 21, 2016 notice on KQED Science online, Berkowitz admitted brain training games may not ward off mental decline, but “the jury is still out. It’s never been a driver in this company to be some healthrelated solution.”
Marginally aware of the controversy, I tried Lumosity several years ago but didn’t stay with it. Earlier this year I tried it again and was truant again. I decided to give it another try. The first game was testing my information processing by matching symbols. I got 80 percent right the first time, then repeated it and got 100 percent.
The next game tested my attention or train of thought. It consisted of moving switches so little choo-choo trains went on the right track. My score was only 21 out of 31. Not so good, I’ve been away from this too long!
On the third game, calibrating your memory, I got 12 out of 15 right. As a reformed perfectionist who always aimed for 100 percent, I’m now OK with 12 out of 15, especially on the first try.
Another online brain training game is Dakim Brain Fitness, number two on the Alzheimers.net site. It claims there are one hundred different, sophisticated, scientifically based, and intellectually challenging cognitive exercise types and a thousand individual exercises. The idea for Dakim Brain Fitness came from Dan Michel in 1999, who began developing cognitive stimulation exercises to help his father, then experiencing memory loss that was later diagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease. Michel was joined by Dr. Gary Small, director of the UCLA Longevity Center in 2003 who became Dakim’s chief scientific advisor. In 2005 after receiving funding from angel investors, they presented a prototype at the tenth White House Conference on Aging in Washington, DC. Dakim introduced their first commercial product to senior living communities successfully in 2006 and two years later they were the number one brain fitness program used in senior living facilities, according to their site. In 2010, Dakim developed the software for PCs and Mac computers. In 2013, they launched a clinical trial of their system and in 2014 developed games for boomers. Theirs is an impressive site with mention of various awards along the way. Their board is equally impressive with four MDs listed and two Ph.Ds.
I had to try their free game offer. The first one was simple memory recall: looking at items: a bowling ball, an old truck, a fish, and a yellow umbrella and then identifying them in the midst of other pictures, easy. The second game, I found a bit harder. A box with blocks of yellow squares and a blue one was to be duplicated when the squares are rotated to a different position. This one made me think and I missed some until I really focused on it. The third game was simple math: one third of 99 divided by 11 plus three more equals what? No problem, six. The fourth one was opening squares of hidden pictures consecutively and identifying two matching pictures after they’re hidden again. I missed a few at first but it was basically easy.
The fifth test didn’t work on my computer, a ride on a magic bus. All the games were interesting, but not, I thought for someone with Alzheimer’s disease.
Next, I checked out the Dakim Brain Fitness Silver for those in senior living facilities. It is being used in 500 senior living communities across North America according to the site with two of them in Naples, the Jewish Family Community Center and Moorings Park. The Dakim home page offers a Marketing Guide, available by clicking on Support and scrolling to the bottom. Prospective buyers are given detailed information as well as guidelines for determining an individual’s appropriate challenge level with one being the highest and five the lowest. There are no sample games to try for Dakim’s Silver. The ones given are the same ones I had tried.
To check further on this, I called Dakim and talked with Tommy Engdahl whom I reached at 888-693-2546. He reported that a new Dakim Silver is being worked on for users at home with no date set yet for release. Engdahl confirmed what I suspected, that the games given are for boomers.
The number three brain fitness game listed on the Alzheimers.net site was Clevermind, specifically designed for those with Alzheimer’s. Their very simple site indicates it covers social, medical and dietary tools, plus gives medical assistance. Clevermind, the site noted, has a Siri- like voice and sells for $1.99 in the app store. I tried to get it on my iPhone but could not find it, only one called Clever Brain that I decided to pass on. Other games can be checked out online or at the app store on your smart phone.
For someone who does not use a computer or cell phone and prefers print materials, check out the Mind, Mood, & Memory monthly newsletter. Each issue includes a column: Memory Maximizers. The June 2017 issue includes a simple exercise to boost one’s ability to imbed and recall information.
“Read a medium-length article (six paragraphs or so) on any subject. Make an effort to remember as many details as you can—the main themes, the key players, dates, etc. as if you were going to present a speech on the topic. Try to eliminate any distractions that would interfere with your concentration. Use basic memory strategies to imbed the information more deeply in your memory, such as visualizing the contents, associating them with familiar information, reading them out loud, or making up a story linking them together. Now put the article aside and write or recite as much as you can of its contents.”
Afterwards check the original article, noting how well you recalled names, locations, dates, and other information. Increase the length or complexity of the article as you notice an improvement in your ability to remember information.
The same June issue includes an article to check your short-term memory and what you can do to boost it. The short-term memory test was devised by researcher Elena Cavallini and her colleagues for their “Aging and Everyday Memory” study. It lists 20 items from a shopping list and suggests looking at the list for five minutes, then covering it up and writing down the items you remember. Average scores for those 60 to 80: nine items, for 20 to 35 year-olds, fourteen.
In addition to articles, Mind, Mood, and Memory always includes a page of paper and pencil exercises each month. The crosswords are easier than those carried by newspapers but still require thought. There is also a Sudoku puzzle, a find the words puzzle, and a cryptogram.
Subscriptions for the newsletter are $39 per year in the US, $49 in Canada. Call them toll free at 866-848-2412 or write to Mind, Mood & Memory, PO Box 8535, Big Sandy, TX 75755-8535. Subscriptions can be renewed online at www.MindMood- Memory.com/cs.
A very social way of keeping the brain fit is to play card or board games with family and friends. When I visit my oldest son and his wife, we always play Banana Gram, in which individual players make up their own scrabble like word diagrams. They play a lot more than I do, and always beat me. At least that’s my excuse, so Lumosity, Dakim, puzzles, here I come. On the next visit…
Shirley Woolaway has an M. Ed. in counseling and worked in journalism, in business, and as a therapist in Pennsylvania. She has 25 years personal experience with dementia as a caregiver for family members with Alzheimer’s disease, and nine years as the coordinator of an Alzheimer’s Association memory loss/caregiver support group, earlier in Pennsylvania and now on Marco Island. We believe that Shirley’s insights will prove helpful to many of our readers.
For help on all aspects of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias call the national Alzheimer’s Association confidential, 24/7 helpline at 800-272-3900 or the local Bonita Springs office at 239-405-7008 for care consults and support group information. Also helpful with local educational programs, workshops, and support groups, is the Naples Alzheimer’s Support Network, 239-262-8388.