Few people don’t love a quick game of online Solitaire or Sudoku. Computer games that challenge our memory and concentration are so popular that there’s more than 4,000 puzzle games in the iPhone app store.
Since our cognitive functions thrive and improve when stimulated, its a no-brainer that people with cognitive disabilities can also benefit from regular mental workouts to increase memory and speed-processing, among other skills.
Cognitive disabilities such as Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis -– which attacks the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord –- can cause a variety of symptoms like blurred vision, memory problems or concentration fatigue.
The MS Technology Collaborative, a group made up of the National MS Society, Microsoft and Bayer HealthCare, recently launched MyBrainGames, a free suite of online cognitive games for the MS community. The games are available at the group’s website, MyMSMyWay.com.
According to the 2007 book, Get Your Brain in the Fast Lane, people who are experiencing age-related or other cognitive problems need to make an extra effort to stimulate their neurons and intensify their connections.
To that end, Prevention.com has started a series of free, online mind puzzles such as Busy Bistro, a recipe and grocery-store shopping scenario that helps sharpen short- and long-term memory and concentration. In Pandara’s Boutique, the goal is to test your observation and concentration prowess by scooping up one-of-a-kind and gold-tag items in a boutique store before the timer runs out.
If you’re more inclined to play games on a console rather than a computer, you can get a Nintendo DS handheld game system and use it to play Brain Age, a popular brain-training game where you use a stylus -– an electronic pen –- to solve simple math problems, recite piano songs and test your memory skills in the classic game, Concentration. The newest version includes Sudoku.
Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree is a similar program for the Nintendo Wii, which uses a remote control connected to your TV. One interesting games lets you use the remote as a phone to listen to customers ordering food and then duplicate their order on the screen.
There’s also Brain Challenge, which is available in multiple formats, including the Wii, Nintendo DS, PlayStation, Xbox 360 and the iPhone. In addition to its 48 mini-games, Brain Challenge offers a “stress training” mode, if you’re looking to manage stress better.
For the iPhone and Palm Pre, there’s Speed Brain from Lumosity. Lumosity’s other unique online games include Familiar Faces and Birdwatching, where you must capture a flying bird while memorizing a letter that flashes on the screen. You’re given a chance to use that letter to guess the type of bird you’ve caught. (I caught a coot in the Alaska wild, and an albatross in a forest.) It’s kind of a combination of Duck Hunt and Wheel of Fortune — at the same time.
Lumosity takes its brain games very seriously. It claims to offer, with a paid online subscription, a Brain Performance Index that measures your performance in a given cognitive function. There’s also several versions for people with disabilities: a color-blind version; a version for those with traumatic brain injuries, which is popular with recently returned veterans; and a version that targets attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Subscriptions range from $9.95 a month to a lifetime membership for $339.
With a variety of games to choose from online, you’ll never get bored. But even if you’re not tech-savvy, pick up a good old-fashioned crossword or Sudoku game in your local newspaper — it will still do the trick, and there’s never any time limit.