How Old is Your Brain?

Posted on Jan 19, 2022

Back in 2006, I bought a Nintendo DS and was fanatical about the game Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day. It was a game that promised to make you mentally sharper, as long as you did solved simple cognitive training puzzles every day.

For several months I played it daily, for five minutes or so, before I watched TV or played a more conventional video game. I told everybody about it. My best friend was a fan, too. After several weeks, I became blazingly fast at most of its puzzles, which included performing simple arithmetic, memorization, and doing a Stroop Color and Word Test. (The Stroop test was the hardest for me, due in no small part to my red/green color-blindness.) At the time, I thought that the daily training was making me smarter. Aside from being able to calculate restaurant tips more quickly, however, I noticed no other intellectual gains.

After some time, I stopped playing Brain Age—at least the brain training part. I had read that it didn’t really improve your cognitive abilities, and had come to the same conclusion myself by that point. Despite that conclusion, I still believe that playing games can make you smarter. That’s why I picked up Sudoku (which was included in Brain Age), the New York Times crossword puzzle, and, more recently, chess. I also do computer programming as a hobby, which is a little like playing a game against the compiler sometimes.

I play all these games to stave off what I fear is inevitable in my old age: mental decline. It think it is inevitable because I watched it happen to my father. At the tail end of his career (he worked until age 75), his mind started slipping away, little by little. I thought it was because he no longer had challenging work to do. Eventually, he developed dementia, and it became clear that the cause was medical in nature.

I realize now that I played Brain Age at the very start of his decline. Perhaps it was the trigger. I also realize that I still want there to be something I can do—mentally, that is—so that I don’t end up with the same fate.