If your child has issues with learning, memory or attention, you may wonder if there are treatments to help. One type of treatment you may hear about is “train the brain” therapy. This alternative therapy is sometimes touted as a natural remedy for ADHD and working memory problems.
It can be hard to pinpoint the issues that make it difficult for a child to concentrate, absorb and remember information. One theory is that repeated mental exercises can strengthen the parts of the brain used for concentration and memory. That’s the idea behind “train the brain” therapy.
What “Train the Brain” Therapy Is
“Train the brain” therapy refers to programs designed to boost memory and information processing skills needed for reasoning and problem solving. This type of therapy usually aims to improve working memory skills. Working memory allows us to remember and use information over a short period of time. An example is when a child needs to think about how to approach a task, break it down into steps, and follow those steps.
“Train the brain” therapy is different from programs designed to improve skills in areas like reading, writing and math. “Train the brain” therapies are designed to improve underlying weaknesses that affect learning. Depending on the program, the goal may be to improve:
- Attention, concentration and impulsivity
- Motivation and perseverance
- Short-term (working) memory
- Visual and auditory information processing
- Analyzing and organizing information
- Problem solving
- Self-checking and self-monitoring strategies
- Building awareness of possible self-correction strategies
- Planning and using strategies for studying and time management
How “Train the Brain” Therapy Works
“Train the brain” therapy is usually available as software. A program may be split into separate training sessions, each taking less than an hour to complete.
In each session, a child plays games that use different aspects of working memory. For example, a game might display a series of numbers on the screen, such as “3, 5, 1.” Next, the program asks the child to recall the “next to last” number she saw. In another session, she might be prompted to spot a certain object in a busy picture.
As the child moves through the training, the tasks become more challenging. The idea is that, with practice, the exercises will build the child’s concentration and memory skills.
Who Provides “Train the Brain” Therapy
Several companies sell train the brain programs to be used at home or school. The programs vary in their goals and approach.
What to Watch Out For
It makes sense that doing brain exercises might improve mental skills like memory and concentration. When scientists reviewed studies on “train the brain” therapy, they found that it sometimes strengthens the specific skill being tested. But it doesn’t improve other skills, like the ability to read or do math, nor does it improve overall skills.
“Train the brain” therapy seems to be most helpful in cases of traumatic brain injury and stroke. But those medical events cause changes in the brain that are different from the challenges seen in ADHD.
Experts also say that working memory training alone doesn’t help reading and language issues, such as dyslexia. Research is ongoing, but it’s too early to say that “train the brain” therapy can improve memory and concentration in kids with ADHD and executive function issues.
The Bottom Line
“Train the brain” programs can be fun and educational. However, there isn’t enough evidence to show that what kids learn in these games will carry over to other settings or tasks.
If you decide to use a “train the brain” program, avoid any that make bold claims. Such claims may promise to balance the brain, improve brain efficiency, or restructure brain circuitry.