With the aging of the Baby Boomers and an increasingly computer literate population, the development of Web sites for online games to maintain and improve cognitive skills was inevitable. One such site is Happy Neuron ( http://happy-neuron.com). Using the slogan “Brain Fitness for Life,” this site offers a variety of games targeting long-term and short-term memory, attention, language, executive functioning (logic, strategy, planning, problem solving, and deductive reasoning) and visual-spatial functioning.
The site includes multiple games in which each of these functions is tested and practiced, resulting in a pleasant variety of games. Each game has a demonstration or sample play mode to familiarize players with the game before actually playing. Different levels of complexity ensure that most people can find a game at which they can be successful in a short time.
Each player, who maintains a profile, is rated on accuracy and time, and is compared with one’s own and others’ performance. This allows players to measure their improvement with time and practice and can serve as a motivating factor. If this reviewer is typical, practice is needed and can improve performance. Most games have more than one level of difficulty, allowing players to start at a lower level so as not to be too discouraged at the outset. The games can be difficult and are definitely challenging, not only for older adults but for players of any age.
This reviewer found that games focusing on some functions, such as visual-spatial functioning and language, were easier than others, such as those focusing on memory. This would indicate that perhaps it is the memory games that may be of most personal benefit for this reviewer. The site uses a “virtual coach” to suggest certain games to players on the basis of usage and their own past performance. Comparing one’s own performance with others’ brings attention to the player’s own areas of cognitive strength and weakness. With game titles such as “Hurray for Change,” “American in Paris,” “Writing in the Stars,” and “Basketball in New York,” one is lured into trying unfamiliar games.
Although the value of such cognitive exercise is not in question, some of the games indeed felt like work rather than pleasure. Perhaps the enjoyment may be heightened with more practice and the challenge of competing with one’s own past performance. However, adults may be tempted to play those games that are more enjoyable and at which they can do better, rather than those that present more of a challenge and may take more effort.
The playability of some games is open to improvement. For example, some games require too many mouse clicks to get started. Some games do not show the correct answer when an incorrect response is entered. The use of “Back” and “Close” buttons would make navigating through the games easier.
In addition to the games, the Happy Neuron site includes scientific information on ways to improve brain fitness, as well as nutrition and exercise information. A blog provides additional information on the value of cognitive exercise to brain health. This site definitely offers valuable information and the opportunity to improve brain fitness. A free 7-day trial is offered.
Judith E. Moffett, MS, RN-BC
Senior Clinical Analyst
MedCentral Health System