Brain Games are a recent upload to the modern digital milieu. Most are made for mobile formats. Some are surprisingly enjoyable. All of these apps endeavor to improve cognition, lower your mental age or improve focus by playing a variety of short games. Users are scored according to performance in each game and receive alerts intended to encourage consistency.
It's only natural that brain games have become a useful tool, perhaps nowhere more-so than in field of neuro rehabilitation. When a person experiences a brain injury, they inevitably suffer cognitive deficits. But they can still recapture some of their former attention, memory and focus through hard work on multiple fronts.
Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to adapt to change within the duration of a single lifetime. This process allows for damaged areas of the brain to pass along their responsibilities to other parts of the brain. Playing certain brain games on a very regular basis can "assist neurons during their hunt for a way around the obstructing injury." Repetition of both actions and games over time can help the survivor's brain facilitate and strengthen a neuroplastic response.
There are many useful applications designed for TBI survivors. These can be used as an extension of the mind; for example, reminder systems and note taking apps. Brainline.org compiled a large list of apps that can prove to be life changing for TBI Survivors including some of the apps on this list. You can read their list here. Our list focuses on just brain games that could prove useful during rehabilitation.
A very usable app with lots of variety, reminders, statistic tracking and pleasing, minimalist interface. When you first boot up the app you immediately notice that the interface is all about much options and self-motivation. The makers of Lumosity are very transparent about wanting you to upgrade to their paid "premium" version. This is one brain game that keeps some of your stats under wrap. Or, at least behind a pay wall. The interface displays your current cognition scores for speed, memory, attention, flexibility, problem solving and math ability.
On the other hand, the games themselves are quite easy to understand and usually fun. An article from Businessinsider.com takes an in-depth look at exactly how beneficial these games really are, noting that "specific populations [of people]... have shown some improvements in memory and executive function after Lumosity-like brain training." They are referring to differently abled individuals. This is in contrast to non-concussed people, who would improve in their ability to perform a specific task, yet not show improvement in their general cognition.
This one is subscription based. More available games than any other app on this list. Also, it is the most expensive.
Compatible with Android, and iOS.
Very similar to Lumosity in that it uses brain games, reminders and score features, but presented differently. Of the apps on this list, I find the games most stimulating visually and conceptually, and give the added bonus of being informational. These games practice skills that are relevant to daily activities like quickly calculating percentages, estimating price, and reinforcing correct spelling and grammar. Similarly the stats it collects are presented less as attributes of cognition and more of practical ability. This means it gives you writing, listening, speaking, reading and math scores and graphs them for you to see your progress.
This app guides you through the process of selecting and participating in activities. You will receive reminders that regularly track your progress. However, some of these games may prove frustrating or too difficult for some clients.
Paying their subscription fee allows you to play more games, and unlocks more performance statistics. Elevate is cheaper than Lumosity, and offers a more polished experience. The drawback is that Elevate doesn't have as many activities. Of this group I'd be most likely to pay for this one and you still get a lot for free.
Compatible with Android, and iOS.
Unique concept that takes its tenets and encourages users to internalize them and "practice" away from your phone. Happify's purpose (and mantra) revolve around positivity, happiness, and mindfulness. At Life Skills Village we use these same concepts in our TBI day program. Using Happify feels like meditation and helps to reframe your thinking; Happify is worth checking out. It's a refreshing mix of in-app mini-games, self-reflection techniques and real-life applications that makes for an interesting experience. This app helps you track your goals and progress - it even and asks you questions about your actions! Happify offers periodic checks-ins and a happiness assessment (so you know how happy you really are).
For all the positive vibes you get on this app, it can feel gimmicky at times. That said I am quite optimistic about positive outcomes and can't recommend this app enough. However, take note: the free version is restrictive and slow.
The subscription fee is the same as Lumosity's. and the app itself does not use any ads.
Download: iOS, Android
Fit Brains Trainer
Polished product with a decent variety of games available in the free version. Games can be somewhat derivative from other products (in some cases the only difference is color), but at least these are available in groups of five per day rather than the three that is standard from the big names. The product is no cheaper than others and the statistics offered aren't very in depth and are almost exactly the same as Lumosity's. I would have said that this one offers the most activities for free, but after five sessions the game locks up and you cannot continue training for free. Lumosity is probably a better option.
Download Here: iOS, Android
This is the first of the group that does not request you pay a subscription, instead it has one time charges for optional features, like removing ads, or their brain currency that makes the app easier. It is most likely entirely funded by ads, which are ubiquitous in the app. The lower your game score, the more ads you see. Skillz has a minimum viewing time as well. The upside is that you are not limited by how many games you want to play per day and can retry each game as much as you like. The games are somewhat low visual quality and unforgiving; however it's completely free and still offers the cognitive training desired. The app even tries to have a sense of humor and, for what it's worth, it helps you get through the games.
Downloads: iOS, Android
This app has both ads (a one time charge for removing ads) and add in-game currency (though at three dollars it's one of the cheapest on the list). The free version is not as restrictive as Elevate, Lumosity or Brain Fit. It's a happy medium that has many of the same games as other apps but doesn't lock them behind a pay wall, but rather a progression wall. So to play other games you have to play games! Smart offers no progress metrics and makes no specific claims about brain training. It just offers the same type of games as other well known brain training apps, and lets you play as much as you'd like. Its layout and transaction scheme is similar to the Skillz app, though a bit more polished.
Download Here: Android, iOS
Brain it on!:
The most unique entry in this list, Brain it on! is a series of puzzles that you solve by drawing shapes. It's a relatively simple concept and all of it sticks to the basic principles, but they extrapolate these ideas and keep adding and adding until the game becomes very difficult. Thankfully they offer hints (behind ad videos). The free version also has you unlock levels by playing other levels kind of like an early Mario game. The app does not offer progress metrics, but does award pleasing little stars and shows you how many you've earned. People with limited hand dexterity may find this outside their abilities, but it offers enough engaging content that I'd recommend it to people who wish to improve their hand-eye coordination.
The premium version is a one-time fee of $3, and removes all ads, unlocks all hints, and unlocks all levels.
Download Here: Android, iOS
The Ideal Brain Game for Brain Injury
This list was written to give a brief rundown of the most popular brain games currently on the market. Each app has its merits - be they functional or economical. My personal favorite has been Elevate, but I am biased because I had used it before, and opted in to the "pro" free trial.
The ideal brain game app would have vast scaling potential and variability. It would track a TBI survivor's cognition and offer a tracking system to show how the user has improved over time. Statistics like these are useful to the subject because they provide a sense of pride and accomplishment, but can be useful to a provider who might integrate this information into their treatment.
What do you think about brain games? What's your favorite?
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About the Doc
Dr. Bryan Weinstein is a practicing psychiatrist with certification from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. He has practiced psychiatric pharmacology and psychotherapy since 1997. Dr. Weinstein is the CEO of Life Skills Village.