offers games to keep your memory sharp

November 3, 2008

Good news! All that time you spend walking around the house looking for your car keys (often when they're in your hand) really isn't your fault. You can blame it on your brain.

There's a good deal of evidence that our brains begin their long slow decline at about age 25 and get progressively worse as we age. Science has recently discovered, however, that the brain is capable of creating new neural connections and pathways at any age (known as plasticity), essentially helping to slow down and reverse the natural brain drain that plagues us all.

Further, it seems likely that some of the work you do to retrain your brain today can pay dividends in the future. One study conducted in 2006 suggests that adults who trained their brain with specific activities achieved gains that were beneficial up to five years later. The key appears to be focusing on the correct activities.

Enter Vivity Labs, a company focused on "delivering unique and entertaining brain fitness products." They're behind a Web site called Fit Brains (, an online platform featuring engaging games and activities that exercise the five key cognitive areas of the brain: memory, language, concentration, executive functions, and visual and spatial skills. These areas are further broken down into more than two-dozen more specific areas like verbal fluency, delayed recall, spatial awareness and more. In other words, the site claims, you can play games to improve your brain's function. (Did you hear that, Mom? I wasn't really wasting all that time!)

All of the games are tightly integrated with Fit Brains extensive suite of personalization tools to provide individualized sessions for each user, as well as comprehensive "brain fitness metrics" to measure individual performance and progress. It's kind of like getting a report card you're not afraid to take home.

The site is developed by Vivity under the tutelage of Dr. Paul Nussbaum, co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Fit Brains. Nussbaum specializes in clinical neuropsychology and was the 2007 recipient of the American Society on Aging's "Gloria Cavanaugh Award" for excellence in training and education in the field of aging. The Fit Brains games and training program were developed by Nussbaum with a group of scientific advisers overseeing the process.

Of course, let's not forget that Fit Brains is a product. Yes, it's designed to help maintain and improve cognitive skills, but also to make money for its creators and investors. Anyone can sign up and play the games for free, essentially receiving all of the brain-building benefits, but to make further use of the personalization features, you'll have to sign up for a paid membership (though it does offer a free trial period).

As a paid member, you'll have access to the tools to track your progress, training circuits, and community features, including the Fit Brains Index, which measures your overall brain fitness level in relation to other Fit Brains users of a similar demographic. One key element to brain plasticity is similar to building muscle: You get stronger by stretching just slightly beyond your ability. The personalized training can adjust each brain fitness activity to the right level of complexity that your brain needs in order to get stronger.

With aging comes change of all kinds, of course, and there's a certain degree of degradation from which we all suffer. But just as we can slow and reverse the physical process through eating well and exercise, we can achieve similar results mentally by training and stretching our brains. With debilitating mental diseases like Alzheimer's threatening us, the idea that we can reduce our risks through entertaining games should be enough to convince us all to take better care of our mental health.

Fit Brains makes it easy, personal, and fun to put 10 minutes of brain training into your daily routine.

Cota is creative director of Rare Bird Inc., a full-service advertising agency specializing in the use of new technologies. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at

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