Brain Games to Keep You Mentally Healthy
First, let's be clear. Brain training games are fun, but they aren't magic. Most current science says that "brain training" offers no more mental benefits than playing other kinds of games, including video games.
This would be a big problem — if the majority of current science didn't also say that video games are great for your brain! Whether your jam is Wordle or Fortnite, playing games keeps your mind active, improves your attention span, stimulates problem-solving and encourages creative thinking.
We went looking for games with three main criteria:
Is it fun? There's no point in recommending a game if you'll tune out halfway through. Boring games are no good to anyone.
Is it accessible? We worked to keep things as platform-neutral as possible. All the chosen games are available on both iPhone and Android, and several have a PC or browser version as well.
Is it mentally engaging? Obviously not every video game has been the subject of an in-depth scholarly assessment, but we gave extra credit to online games that either had science backing them up or provided a deep, intellectually challenging experience.
Based on the above criteria, we heartily recommend any and all of the below games to improve memory and to keep your mind active. Note that these are in no particular order — well, they're in alphabetical order, but you know what we mean — so all of these games meet our criteria and get the coveted WordFinder Seal of Approval.
Brainturk is comparatively new to the marketplace and still has a few rough edges. It lacks the graphical panache of Lumosity (which we’ll get to later), and the browser version requires the occasional refresh to play properly. That said, the actual memory games for adults were engaging. Plus, the selection, which is broken into categories based on particular cognitive skills, was both extensive and intuitive.
Brainturk has at least one major advantage over the competition: its price. The Brainturk Lite app for Android or iPhone is free and contains much of the program's content. The full app, with all the content and personalized feedback, will cost you a princely $1.97. Like the website, the app has the occasional glitch, but it's still a steal for cost-conscious gamers.
Copycat on Helpful Games ascribes to the mantra that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. The free online memory game clearly borrows its inspiration from the classic Simon electronic game, which launched in 1978. Four different-colored buttons are arranged in a circle. The game then lights up the buttons in increasingly longer sequences. As the player, you must replicate each sequence to progress to the next move.
In the case of Copycat, which is appropriate for players young and old alike, you get 28 levels of varying difficulty. At the easiest level, the lights and tones are played at “low speed” and you only have to pass three moves. At the most difficult level, the sequence is at normal speed and there are a total of 15 random moves. Earn “knowledge points” based on how you do. Copycat is one of the best games to improve memory and concentration because of its simplicity and the fun factor.
Duolingo is a fun app that provides language learning for dozens of languages. It also caters to people from countries where English isn’t the primary language. You start by choosing the language you want to study and the reason you want to study it. These reasons include for work, school and most importantly for you, brain training.
The app will teach you to listen, speak, read and write in your selected language. You’ll learn thousands of different words and sentences, all while working around your schedule. Then, after you’ve completed the training, you’ll be able to use the language practically, such as to properly communicate with native speakers. Additionally, you can subscribe to Duolingo Plus for $6.99 a month. Similar to other app subscriptions, Duolingo Plus offers features like extra quizzes and the removal of ads.
Elevate is one of the most impressive offerings in the current brain game market. It scores high both on design and on the depth and breadth of its games to improve memory and concentration. Get help with everything from fast math to public speaking. It also has substantial science backing it up, with one study finding a 69% increase in Elevate players' cognitive skills relating to the games they'd played. Nice!
Predictably, since Elevate has the pretty graphics and deep bench of worthwhile games to challenge Lumosity, it also has that price point. Full access will cost you $9.99 for a month, $39.99 for a year, or $149.99 for a lifetime membership.
Lumosity is the OG brain trainer, like how Words With Friends is a big deal among digital word games. More accurately, it's the OG example of game developers marketing their product as cognitively helpful. They actually got in some trouble about that back in 2016. They've cleaned up their act since, running proper studies to back up their substantial claims.
Lumosity provides a suite of memory games for adults that focus on different aspects of cognition. The games are all aesthetically pleasing and tend toward a relaxing, natural theme. Don't let it fool you, though. These brain games can be properly challenging, which of course is exactly what's needed for a good cerebral workout.
As for pricing, much of Lumosity is available for free. The program also offers a free calibration test for prospective players to test out where their strengths and weaknesses are. There is also a Premium option with access to the full 60-plus game collection and personalized feedback. Multiple pricing options exist for Lumosity Premium: $11.99 per month or $59.99 for a full year. There's also nothing stopping you from trying out the free program for as long as you like before making a decision on Premium.
Peak is another well-designed and user-friendly option in the brain games market. Rather than dividing its collection according to academic subjects, it's broken down its 40-plus games according to which cognitive skills they emphasize. They even include some interesting, if perhaps slightly less than rigorous, "emotional intelligence games."
We tease, but several of Peak's products, particularly the Advanced Training Programs available through Peak Pro, were developed in cooperation with academics from Yale, Cambridge and King's College London, among others. These are memory games for adults you can trust.
Peak Pro will cost you $4.99 per month, $34.99 per year or $99.99 for a lifetime subscription, making it one of the more affordable premium brain game options. Combine that with the fact that Peak's offerings aren't just approved, but are in many cases designed from the ground up in cooperation with psychologists from some of the best universities in the world, and you have a thoroughly respectable brain training option.
On Thinking Well
It's ironic that, in a culture where every medium extols the virtues of physical fitness (and attempts to sell expensive things to encourage the same), we tend to neglect the well-being of our brains. Declines in mental and cognitive health are often ignored and diminished as "lazy, "moody" or an unavoidable result of age.
None of those things are true. Finding activities you enjoy that keep you active is as important for your brain as it is for your body. Brain games to improve memory and concentration, and games in general, prioritize that kind of mental improvement. These five options are all solid ways to improve your mental and cognitive health. Go forth and play.
Matt Salter has been a professional writer for over 10 years. He is a gaming and technology expert, and world-class word nerd.