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For our bodies we have gyms, and for our minds we have...brain fitness apps

Mark Sullivan | Jan. 14, 2014
Interest in "the quantified self" and a growing body of clinical research seem to point toward a bright future for brain fitness tech.

Desktop brain fitness products

Lumosity
Like many competing products, Lumosity was developed by a team of neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists. But it seems to get the lion's share of the press among brain fitness apps — and for good reason. Dr. Hillis says Lumosity is one of the services she has recommended to patients.

Lumos Labs calls Lumosity a "gym for your brain." The site's brain exercises focus on five main areas: memory, attention, speed, flexibility, and problem solving. You start by filling in a sort of mental profile survey, and Lumosity builds an exercise routine for you based on your answers.

In one Lumosity game, I was asked to remember where a bird showed up on the screen, as well as the number that blinked on at the same time in the middle of the screen. In another, I was given a word root ("at") and asked to make as many words as I could from it ("attack, atmosphere, atom"). For each word, I got more points, with longer words scoring higher.  

Lumosity constantly keeps track of your "workouts" and measures your progress in a BPI (Brain Performance Index). It has a social layer too, so you can measure your results and progress against what other users are doing.

A subscription costs $15 per month, and a lifetime membership goes for $240 — the same as 16 months of $15 monthly subscriptions. Discounted two-year and family plans are available as well.

BrainHQ
BrainHQ
from Posit Science offers another suite of brain exercises designed to increase your mental sharpness and help you fight memory loss. The BrainHQ exercises fall into six general categories: memory, navigation, intelligence, attention, people skills, and brain speed.

One of the memory exercises resembled Concentration. I was instructed to click on one of a series of cards on the screen, remember the spoken word that resulted, then match the card with other cards that made the same sound. The game started with a set of just four cards, but then increased the number of cards to make matches harder to remember.

A game in the navigation section presented me with two side-by-side shapes and asked me to rotate one of the shapes to create a mirror image with the other one.

In the "people skills" section, I was instructed to listen in on a conversation between three people and remember what things were said and which person said them. This task was harder than it looked — and to be a good witness, I had to pay close attention to the conversation.

You can buy a year-long subscription for $96 (which works out to $8 per month), or you can pay $14 month-by-month for access. The free iPad app lets you subscribe via in-app purchase, but no Android or iPhone apps are available. 

 

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