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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.

Dakim BrainFitness
The Dakim name came up a lot when I was researching brain fitness tech. It's one of the oldest brain fitness products, having been around since the early 2000s. Dan Michel originally developed the Dakim BrainFitness software ($249) as a way to help his dad fight off Alzheimer's.

Dakim, which is aimed at Baby Boomers and seniors, differs from other brain fitness products in that Michel himself guides users through the exercises, acting as narrator, coach, and tour guide. The resulting experience seems especially well suited to older users. 

The program organizes its exercises into six cognitive areas, including short-term memory, long-term memory, language, computation, visuospatial orientation, and critical thinking. Altogether Dakim offers more than 100 exercises, and many of them use music, humor, movie clips, stories, and trivia to keep things fun. In the memory section, for instance, I was shown pictures of famous people like Abe Lincoln and Ella Fitzgerald, and given little-known factoids about each one. Later, I had to match the facts with the people.

I liked Dakim mostly for the warmth and patience Michel brings to each session. Also, the games were more engaging because of the popular culture and history aspects of the questions.

According to Dakim, you can complete its "comprehensive brain workout" in just 20 minutes a day, and the exercise can reduce cognitive decline by up to 63 percent. A UCLA research team recently studied 69 people from retirement communities who played Dakim BrainFitness games, and found that 52 of them showed improved memory and language skills.

takes a slightly more social and spiritual approach to brain health. Focusing on "building resilience at a neurological and physiological level," the exercises aim to help you stay positive, sleep better, and have more-satisfying relationships. bLife says these elements have to be in place before real mental fitness can happen.

After I took a personality appraisal survey that included questions like, "Do you spend a lot of time thinking about events in the past?" the site offered me a customized action plan for a $15 monthly subscription. For me the plan comprised a new set of questions every day on two variable topics (today's topics were "Breathe Deeply" and "Social Check-in"), followed by a couple of 5-minute recorded meditations on those subjects, which I found to be thoughtful and relaxing.

Apps for phones and tablets

Brain Exercise
Brain Exercise
, one of the oldest brain fitness apps, got its start as Brain Age on the Nintendo DS handheld console. Now available for iOS devices, the app consists of a series of simple puzzle games based on the research of world-famous neurologist Dr. Ryuta Kawashima. An animated version of the good doctor guides you through a daily regimen of puzzles.


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