Do “brain games” really help with ADHD?

By Sean J. Smith, PhD

Experts weigh in: Can “train the brain” games help kids with ADHD and executive functioning issues?, kid playing a game on their phone

Question:

I’ve heard about online games and apps that are supposed to “train the brain” and improve memory and attention. Could they help my daughter with her ADHD symptoms?

Answer:

That depends what you mean by help. Some people say these games boost memory and build attention. But that doesn’t mean the games are helpful to people with ADHD or would work as a treatment for ADHD symptoms

With these games, players typically move through a series of challenges. Players are often asked to recall and recreate a sequence of shapes, colors, or objects in a certain amount of time.

If they’re successful, they move on to a new, more complex, set of challenges. Players are rewarded with badges. And they get data showing how much they’ve improved at problem-solving or flexible thinking.

These games appear to do one thing well. They allow users to improve their efficiency in the task they’re doing within the game. But the improvement is short-term and specific to that task. Studies have found no improvement in memory or attention that goes beyond the game. 

So, if the goal is to remember the order in which a series of shapes were shown in a certain game, great. Brain games offer this benefit. But if users expect those skills to apply to organizing a schedule or creating a list of steps for doing an assignment, they’ll be disappointed.

That doesn’t mean your daughter shouldn’t play these games. If you’re aware of their limitations, there’s no harm in them. Kids often find them fun, competitive, complex, and challenging.

One thing to consider is cost, however. Some of the more popular games have a monthly fee with various charges to gain access to additional features, levels, data, and games. But there are also games that are free.

Overall, brain games are like many of the game apps on the market. They’re entertaining — and of limited use beyond recreation.


Looking for different ways to help with ADHD symptoms? Learn about conventional and alternative ADHD treatment options. And find out what types of professional help with ADHD

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    About the author

    About the author

    Sean J. Smith, PhD a professor of special education at the University of Kansas, specializes in technology-based solutions for students.