Boost Your Memory 3 – Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training on Nintendo DS
Since I published the first two articles in this series about improving your memory, I’ve had twenty eight emails asking what I think about the Brain Training series for Nintendo DS. Now, 28 emails on a single topic might not be a lot if you’re the BBC and you employ Russel Brand, but for me it’s a deluge – and ignoring a deluge isn’t a very bright thing to do. So I thought I’d better take a look at Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training.
I bought my daughter, Rosie, a DS Lite last Christmas. The console came bundled with Brain Training. In case you don’t know, Nintendo DS has 2 screens (DS = Dual Screen). One screen presents the problems for you to solve and you write your answers on the other screen with a stylus pen. Some questions require a spoken response which is interpreted (usually correctly) by the voice recognition system. The Nintendo DS is extremely user-friendly, with no complicated controls, just a touch pad and a pen.
The basic idea behind Brain Training is to give yourself a mental work-out using simple mathematical, visual and language problems. According to Nintendo, research using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has shown that reading aloud and performing rapid calculations work increases blood supply to important areas of the brain, making them work better. So it’s no surprise that Brain Training prominently features these tasks. The manual points out that none of the exercises is difficult but you have to complete them as quickly as possible. The system is designed to be fun and simple to operate (so getting it set up doesn’t constitute the first problem) So far so good.
When you start the programme for the first time, you’re given a series of tests to determine your DS brain age, so you have a baseline against which to measure your progress. As you get better at the various exercises, your DS Brain Age will decrease. A few people have told me they feel insulted by this; they’ve spent their lives gaining knowledge and wisdom only to be informed that younger is better. I think they’re missing the point. It doesn’t matter how much you know if you can’t access that information when you need it, and a younger brain, like a younger muscle, is faster and more flexible.
The system is designed to allow users to compete against each other, as well as against themselves. Having fallen into this trap with my kids, I would advise getting a little practice in before you take on a younger opponent – you still probably won’t beat them but at least you’ll be spared that disgusted look as they wonder if the cat would give them a better challenge.
But does it work? Probably. There are so many variables in every human life that it would be very difficult to isolate any single factor as having caused an improvement in memory. All I can say is that my DS Brain Age has decreased steadily. Whether my improved skill at Brain Training games reflects an overall benefit or simply that I’m getting better at these particular problems, I don’t know. And I’m not sure it matters. If you feel you’re e improving, you’re already half way there, I reckon.
My advice is to try it. It’s fun, it can’t hurt and it will probably do you a lot of good.
Tom Nolan is a dentist with over 30 years’ experience.
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