Brain Training is a popular subject in rehabilitation at the moment.  The development of computerised programmes coupled with the clinician’s desire to improve cognitive functioning has encouraged more research in this area. Unfortunately, evidence to support brain training is not as concrete as we would like. Some studies demonstrate successful findings but it has been found that commercial providers of brain games have been funding this research and so the findings may be questionable.

When brain training first began in the 1970’s and 80’s it was used extensively in rehabilitation. After some research it was found that the participants became better at the specific task that they practiced, rather than improving the cognitive domain or generalising the improvement in day to day activities which use that cognitive component.

From the 1990’s the focus shifted to grading the intensity of the task depending on performance (i.e. the better you did the more difficult the task got). Some studies did demonstrate that with intense training working memory capacity could be improved and transferred to other activities. It seemed to be improved by grading the intensity of the activity and practicing the activity for much longer periods of time (45mins a day for several weeks). But some researchers believe the methods used to achieve these results were questionable.

Current research remains unexciting. Several studies published in 2016 (see below for useful references) which looked at client groups, including acquired brain injury and mild cognitive impairment, did not find sustainable, transferrable benefits to brain training.

And therefore the ever important question is again proposed; what is our fundamental reason for seeking improvements in cognitive functioning? Is it for better performance in the activities of daily living? Improved participation in society? Good clinical practice still points to brain training being part of a comprehensive rehabilitation programme rather than a standalone aim. 


Van Heugten, C.M., Ponds, R.W.H.M., Kessels, R.P.C. (2016) Brain training: hype or hope. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation. 26( 5-6), 639-644

Want to read more?

Makin, S. (2016). Brain training: Memory games. Nature, 531, S10–S11.

Sandberg, P., Rönnlund, M., Derwinger-Hallberg, A., & Stigsdotter Neely, A. (2016). Memory plasticity in older adults: Cognitive predictors of training response and maintenance following learning of number-consonant mnemonic. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, 26(5–6), 742–760.

Sandberg, P., & Stigsdotter Neely, A. (2016). Long-term effects of executive process training in young and old adults. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, 26(5–6), 761–782.

 Sigmundsdottir, L., Longley, W. A., & Tate, R. L. (2016). Computerised cognitive training in acquired brain injury: A systematic review of outcomes using the International Classification of Functioning (ICF). Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, 26(5–6), 673–741.

Vermeij, A., Claassen, J. A. H. R., Dautzenberg, P. L. J., & Kessels, R. P. C. (2016). Transfer and maintenance effects of online working-memory training in normal ageing and mild cognitive impairment. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, 26(5–6), 783–809.

Wentink, M., Berger, M., de Kloet, A., Meesters, J., Band, G., Goossens, P., Wolterbeek, R., & Vliet-Vlietland, T. (2016). The effects of an 8-week computer-based brain training programme on cognitive functioning, quality of life and self efficacy after stroke. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, 26(5–6), 847–865