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Brain Games

What you need to know about brain-training programs

American consumers spend close to $300 million a year on computer-based brain-training programs — "mind workouts" — from such companies as MindSparke, Lumosity and PositScience. For just a few minutes (and a few dollars) a day, these programs promise enhanced memory and improved productivity. But do they work?

See also: How to improve your memory.

It depends on whom you ask. Much of the excitement around brain training is due to the relatively recent discovery that the brain remains plastic — able to change structurally and functionally —throughout life. But while a plastic brain means cognitive improvement is possible, clinical studies examining computer-based brain-training programs offer mixed results. Some show slight improvement with regular use; others find they're nothing more than a fun distraction. The largest clinical trial to date, conducted by British researchers and published in the April 20, 2011, issue of Nature, found no significant cognitive gains after several weeks of brain training.

Here are some of the more established brain-training programs on the market and their costs.

1. Company: MindSparke

What you get: Access to the Brain Fitness Pro program online

Cost: $24.95 per month or $395 lifetime subscription fee

2. Company:
Lumosity

What you get: Online and mobile access to a variety of brain games designed to enhance memory, problem-solving and attention

Cost: $14.95 per month, $79.95 per year or $299.95 lifetime subscription fee

3. Company:
PositScience

What you get: Visual and auditory training programs

Cost: $345 for the Total Training Software Package

4. Company: Cogmed

What you get: The Cogmed training software, plus one-on-one assessments of your progress with a trained Cogmed coach

Cost: $900 - $1,800, depending on your local Cogmed Practice Center

5. Company: NeuroActive (neuroactive.ca/EN/)

What you get: A "whole brain"-training software package that the company says will strengthen more than 18 cognitive abilities, including memory, stress reduction and attention

Cost: $99.95 for Complete Brain Training software

You may also like: Every day ways to stay sharp.

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