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Can brain-training game apps really help children with ADHD?

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If you enter the words “brain games” or “brain training” into the iTunes App Store, you’ll be greeted with plenty of games that claim they can help train our minds to function better. A very popular app – which urges us to “challenge your brain with scientific games” – is Lumosity, enjoying its more than 50 million users.

Parents, however, might seek something a little more kid-friendly during their search when they stumble upon the boatload of colorful training games. On the surface, these games might be indistinguishable from any other gaming app that makes a bunch of dinging noises as your kids poke around on them from the second- and third-row seats of your minivan during carpool runs.

Beyond helping people become mentally sharp, however, a subset of the best of these child-focused apps can actually assist with more serious issues, such as ADHD and learning disabilities – conditions that are oftentimes connected with low levels of working memory.

One app that stands out from the crowd in the iTunes Store is Cogmed, by Pearson Education, Inc. Unlike other gaming apps that may have been thrown together without much brain science behind their design, the Cogmed Working Memory Training app (available on iPad only as of this writing) is based on neuroplasticity theory and was developed by a group of European neuroscientists. It is backed by multiple research studies and embraced by medical experts who have published evidence of how much it has helped their clients, many of whom suffered from behavioral and memory-related ADHD issues.

Working Memory, ADHD and Cogmed Training

One wouldn’t necessarily tie together a lack of impulse control with a person’s lack of working memory, but psychologists have done just that. And what exactly is working memory? It helps to think of it in technical terms, like the level of memory your computer needs to function effectively at any given time.

cogmedpic
“Working memory is like mental RAM,” explains the video on this page about Cogmed training, which delves into actual examples of the software that features repetitive tasks that challenge players to duplicate various sequences of memory training progressions that the gamer is encouraged to repeat, a la the old-school electronic game known as Simon. In general, these tasks get more difficult as the game progresses and the user “graduates” to more advanced levels of mental exercise.

The participant is encouraged to play the game often throughout the 5-week training period in order to witness their capacity of working memory rise. Once the benefits are gained from an increased working memory, that increase remains, and the user can enjoy the new level of attention span and other advantages gained from the process. For example, a child or adult might have high intelligence and plenty of skills – but if distractions arose due to a low working memory level and more ADHD-connected symptoms that pulled them off the task, all those skills would’ve been for naught and flown right out the window until they used the brain-training to keep them on course to help successfully complete a mission.

“Research indicates that among the children and adults who complete Cogmed Working Memory Training, 80% experience significant improvements in their working memory and attention, which often reflects in their academic and professional performance,” notes Cogmed studies.

Therefore, it appears that some of the brain-training apps filling the app store aren’t merely just for fun, but can seriously be a boon for parents looking for a way to quell the side effects of ADHD in their children.


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1 comments
Olga Serkus
Olga Serkus

Great overview of brain training games. I tried few (incl. Lumosity) but cannot say I become any smarter. May be I am at my capacity :-)

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