Every morning at 11am my phone cheeps. I don’t rush off to a meeting or make a call. Instead I start playing games. But for 15 minutes, I consider this as important as any work I could be doing.
This is Lumosity, my brain-training app – what founder Kunal Sarkar calls a “gym for the brain”. In eight years it has picked up 70 million users in 180 countries; it is thought the industry will be worth US$6 billion by 2020.
I can play on desktop, tablet or mobile (Android or iPhone), although not all 57 games are available beyond the desktop. Basic membership is free; premium plans start at $79.95 per year.
Train of Thought is probably the game that Lumosity is best known for – getting dozens of different coloured trains to their matching stations by flipping switches to keep changing train tracks.
Not all games are fun: in fact, some stress me out so much, I wonder why I bother with it. As one other reviewer put it, Penguin Pursuit (a turning maze for spatial orientation) is my own “seventh circle of hell”. Somehow I’ve managed to manipulate my game preferences so I just don’t see this game anymore.
The games measure speed, memory, attention, flexibility and problem-solving. While I score highly on attention and problem-solving, my memory is down in the 33rd percentile – no surprise, as I have to write reminders for absolutely everything.
My Lumosity performance index has gone up from 610 when I began playing in April to 1,366 now, which apparently puts me in the 80 percentile for my age group (yes, I feel smug).
But does brain training actually work? Experts are divided; although it is generally agreed that playing a brain game will make you better at that game, it won’t necessarily help you remember someone’s name or where you left your phone. When author Dan Hurley was writing Smarter: The New Science of Building Brain Power, his IQ went up just one point after several months of playing Lumosity daily.
But with Alzheimers’ groups universally declaring that challenging your mind helps keep your brain healthy, I still know exactly what I’ll continue doing at 11am each morning.
What other brain-training apps can I try?
Nintendo got popular with Brain Age for the DS console back in 2005. In a booming market, there are a lot of apps: Eidetic, which sends you tests to help you memorise important facts; Elevate, which focuses on brevity, processing and focus; Left Brain Right Brain, which has three games, Color Blend, Criss Cross and Speed Match; and Hello Brain, from Trinity College Dublin, are just a few.
Can I play Lumosity on my mobile and on desktop?
You can, but it’s not a smooth migration. Lumosity only remembers the level you were at on that particular platform, so even if I reached level 7 in the coffee-pouring game Trouble Brewing on my mobile, if I play it on my tablet I’m back to level 4 – but it remembers top scores.
Can I play with friends and family?
The Lumosity family plan costs US$100 for five players so it’s a good option, cost-wise. But you can’t see each others’ scores or play together.
What are the best times to play?
Lumosity says these are the peak performance times for nine of their games: 7am to 9am: Pinball Recall (working memory); 9 to 11am: Colour Match (reaction times) and Ebb and Flow (task-switching); 10am to noon: Memory Matrix (visual memory), Speed Match (information processing) and Lost in Migration (divided attention); 1 to 3pm: Word Bubbles Rising (verbal fluency); 2 to 4pm: Raindrops (speeded arithmetic); 6 to 8pm: Chalkboard Challenge (arithmetic reasoning).
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