Friday, January 8, 2016

Not Another Magic Bullet?!

Last time I wrote about how many Americans try to fight aging and poor health by following the constant parade of food crazes instead of the tried-and-true, but more difficult, practices of eating a reasonable diet and getting regular exercise.  This kind of “magic bullet” approach is very appealing when advertisers promise great results with little or no effort.

But it doesn’t end with physical health.  We have other health concerns as shown by this headline:  “Americans Rank Alzheimer's as Most Feared Disease.”  A poll from 2012 revealed that 44 percent cite it as the most feared disease compared to 33 percent for cancer.  Couple this with other types of dementia and other age-related mental problems and the population is ripe for exploitation in any number of ways.

One example came to light this week as the news broke that one of the leaders in the “brain training” industry, Lumosity, has been fined $2 million by the Federal Trade Commission for preying “on consumers' fears about age-related cognitive decline, suggesting their games could stave off memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer's disease."  It was reported that the fine should have been larger, but the company could not afford to pay more.  The entire industry has estimated sales of over $1 billion per year and continues to grow.  Experts were cited in the article as concluding:  "The aggressive advertising entices consumers to spend money on products and to take up new behaviors, such as gaming, based on these exaggerated claims."  Those exaggerated promises caused the FTC to take action.

Scientific American covered this problem about one year ago reporting on a statement released by the Stanford University Center on Longevity and the Berlin Max Planck Institute for Human Development, that there is no solid scientific evidence to back up promises made by these companies.  The statement by 70 prominent neurology and psychology researchers was critical of the entire brain training industry, citing "frequently exaggerated" marketing.

For those interested in more information the entire SA article is worth reading.  To summarize for the rest:
The bottom line is that there is no solid evidence that commercial brain games improve general cognitive abilities. But isn’t it better to go on brain training with the hope, if not the expectation, that scientists will someday discover that it has far-reaching benefits? The answer is no. Scientists have already identified activities that improve cognitive functioning, and time spent on brain training is time that you could spend on these other things. One is physical exercise. In a long series of studies, University of Illinois psychologist Arthur Kramer has convincingly demonstrated that aerobic exercise improves cognitive functioning. The other activity is simply learning new things.
Sorry, no magic bullets from brain training either, just another opportunity to throw away time and money – more evidence that critical thinking (to find the right answer) and discipline (to stick with it) are so necessary to us all.

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