We all have memory lapses. We can’t remember where we put our keys. We wrack our brains trying to recall that person’s name from the grocery store. We call our kids by the dog’s name (or the dog by the kid’s name). These moments happen to all of us, no matter our age.
But as we age, memory lapses can become more frequent and more troublesome. Lower blood flow to parts of the brain and other physical changes to the brain can lead to memory troubles.
The good news? Research shows that keeping your brain active can possibly limit memory loss. And some studies show a healthy lifestyle and activities that keep your brain active – like learning a new instrument or learning a new language – may help prevent the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Research shows that improving your brain’s processing speed – basically, how fast your brain can make connections between things – is linked with a reduced risk of developing dementia. Activities that improve that processing speed are key to reducing the chances of memory-related issues later in life.
Many app developers claim to be able to train your brain to improve your memory, but the science on these apps is still undetermined. The studies used to bolster the developers’ claims had limited participants, making the science not quite certain. However, those studies did show that brain training apps can have a positive impact—and there’s definitely no downside.
So, while the jury is still out on the types of activities that are the best for training your brain, any activity that stimulates your brain could be helpful in improving memory, and all scientists and doctors agree they can’t hurt.
The best options for brain training include puzzles, games and brain-training apps. But be sure to choose apps that focus on improving processing speed and have a scientific basis underpinning their development. Whether you’re looking to slow down the aging process in your loved one or you simply want to be able to remember names and faces at your next social event, check out these top games and apps for improving memory.
Crossword puzzles challenge your brain to make connections between long-term and short-term memory. They also force your brain to make connections between both verbal and visual inputs. While some studies show that a daily crossword habit is linked to preventing dementia, other studies found no connection. What science does tell us, though, is that doing crosswords encourages your brain to work in ways that challenge your memory.
Sudoku and other logic puzzles
Like crosswords, sudoku stimulates the brain and can be helpful in reducing memory loss. A study from Harvard Health Publishing notes that combining brain games like sudoku with 20 minutes a day of light cardiovascular exercise has been linked to improved memory.
While the science behind whether brain-training apps work to improve memory is mixed, this new area of research is ever-evolving. Currently, the University of California, Riverside is conducting a National Institutes of Health-funded study of 30,000 participants to determine if brain-training apps provide measurable benefits.
If you want to give brain-training apps a try, these are the top apps to investigate.
Elevate is a brain-training app that uses games to train your brain in key areas, including reading, writing, memory, math and speaking. To start, you’ll take a quick assessment, then receive a starting score that serves as a baseline for tracking your progress. Through more than 40 games, Elevate works to train your brain to improve your brain function. The app offers a free seven-day trial, which turns into a yearly subscription unless you cancel it before the end of the trial period.
Lumosity focuses on seven different categories of brain training: speed, memory, attention, flexibility, problem-solving, word and math. Each category has its own set of games that focus on improving that skill. The app touts its use in more than 20 peer-reviewed studies on the effectiveness of brain-training games. Three games a day are free, but you can get unlimited games for a monthly fee.
Cognifit offers an initial free assessment of your cognitive abilities along with a free report you can download that identifies areas of cognition that might need some work. The app offers a personalized training program based on your assessment, including a library of video coaching sessions. The free plan provides one video coaching session and access to three games. The basic plan includes an assessment with each session, access to all video coaching sessions and more than 20 games for a monthly fee. The premium plan provides everything in the basic plan along with access to more than 60 games for a higher monthly fee.
Peak is another brain training app that focuses on five areas: memory, problem-solving, language, mental agility and focus. An initial assessment gives you your starting score, or PBS, which measures your progress in the app. You can select the days and times you want to train to receive reminders from the app. The free version offers access to two brain training games a day, while the paid option provides access to a wide variety of games without ads.
While computerized brain-training games have been the focus of a lot of research and attention, old-fashioned board and card games can work your memory muscles. Games like bridge require memory, strategy and problem-solving; a simple game like Go Fish can help train your memory, as the strategy includes remembering what others have in their hands. Board games like chess and checkers encourage players to plan ahead, while the board game Memory forces you to remember what’s on each card.
It might not seem like it, but jigsaw puzzles also require the use of the memory part of your brain. When putting together a jigsaw puzzle, your brain has to remember the overall picture while breaking it down into smaller pieces, making jigsaw puzzles a great way to put your memory to the test.
Keep your brain active
No matter what game, app or puzzle you choose to improve memory for yourself or the older adult in your life, the benefits of keeping your brain active are undeniable. While research links an active brain to a reduced risk of dementia, keeping your loved one’s brain active and body healthy are simply among the best ways to improve the quality of life as we age. And, who knows, you might stop calling the dog by your child’s name, too.