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18 Useful Cognitive Games That Boost Adults' Brain Power

Last updated on April 24, 2023
Cognitive games for adults - brain training apps and activities

If hitting the gym is the go-to activity for those wanting to become physically fit, playing cognitive games and setting a strong brain training routine is the solution for adults looking to unleash the true potential of their minds.

"Participating in various brain games alone (…) may help with improving select brain skills and can play an important role in maintaining overall brain health."

Dr. Julie Brody-Magid, clinical director of the Memory Disorders Assessment Clinic at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital, wrote in “The thinking on brain games”.

Moreover, a study showed that training your brain can help improve your working memory, thus increasing your IQ and getting you closer to developing a genius intellect.

Sadly, too few people allocate any time to exercising their brain muscles.

And ironically, a large part of the gym addicts, who love to see their bodies grow, are unfortunately all brawn and no brains.

Could this be because they can’t see and touch the results? After all, we can’t just crack our heads open and flex our lobes in front of a mirror.

But, there’s good news. While there is no way you can see your grey matter evolve – unless you have a personal MRI scanner at home – with the right training, you will definitely feel your brain’s power growing.

But the question comes: what kind of games improve your brain’s power?

For example, a little color matching and tracing lines through a maze will work for kids’ inexperienced brains. But, for adults, cognitive games should have a whole different look.

Given that, we researched the best digital and old-school brain training games on the market and put them together.

Hence, each of the following apps and activities will help you keep your cognitive skills – thinking, speaking, learning, reading, writing, and more – in ultimate shape.

Digital Cognitive Games for Adults: 13 Efficient Brain Training Apps

There are many apps that let you play a wide variety of brain training games. Then, in this crowded fish tank, it’s important to know which apps are really going to upgrade your cognitive skills.

In our research, we focused on 3 popular apps and listed another 10 that have similar features, in case you struggle to find a perfect fit.

Lumosity, a cognitive training program

Coffee brewing game in Lumosity brain training app

Being one of the most popular cognitive games among adults, Lumosity has gathered over 100 million users across the years. Their high variety of games and the many areas they work your mind on, along with their science-based background make Lumosity a top player in the brain training industry.

Lumosity’s cognitive games improve your brain’s:

  • Speed: information processing, spatial orientation, visualization;
  • Memory: working memory, face-name recall, spatial recall;
  • Attention: divided attention, timing, field of view, selective attention;
  • Problem-solving abilities: planning, spatial reasoning, logical reasoning;
  • Math skills: probabilistic and proportional reasoning, numerical estimation, numerical calculation;
  • Language proficiency: reading comprehension; vocabulary proficiency, verbal fluency.

Standing-out features:

  • Wide variety of games;
  • Luminosity Performance Index (LPI): helps you compare your strengths and weaknesses across games that challenge different cognitive abilities. This way you will know what you need to improve;
  • Mood and sleep trends: you can keep track of your happiness and sleep patterns and correlate these to your cognitive performance;
  • Daily brain workouts;
  • They always experiment with new games;
  • The app is backed up by researchers participating in the Human Cognition Project;
  • Lumosity has both a web and a mobile version.

Free vs paid: While Lumosity’s cognitive games can be played for free, you can enjoy only about three of them per day.

On the other hand, if you want longer training sessions, you should consider going with one of their premium plans. These cost a few bucks per month.

Elevate, brain training and games

Three phones showing Elevate's brain training interface

Same as Lumosity, Elevate is one of the most famous apps in terms of brain training, and people from all over the world have become addicted to its games. After all, Elevate was Apple’s iPhone app of the year in 2014.

Elevate’s cognitive games improve your brain’s:

  • Productivity;
  • Learning power;
  • Self-confidence;
  • Processing speed;
  • Math skills;
  • Reading, writing, and speaking abilities;
  • Listening accuracy.

Standing-out features:

  • Daily training;
  • 35+ games;
  • Compare your performance against yourself and other users;
  • Research-proven efficiency: Elevate users enhanced their performance by 69% compared to non-users.
  • Brain workout calendar that helps you stay on track.

Free vs paid: Generally, you can get by with the unpaid version of the app. But, if you want to experience all the games in Elevate’s arsenal at any time of the day, a premium plan will suit you better.

Note: you can play Elevate’s cognitive games only on mobile devices.

Peak, better games for better minds

Peak's interface showing cognitive games

Peak promises a lot with its slogan above, and tens of millions of people have already jumped on board. No wonder, since their games are backed up by experts in neuroscience.

Peak’s cognitive games improve your brain’s:

  • Focus;
  • Memory;
  • Problem-solving abilities;
  • Mental agility, and more.

Standing-out features:

  • A virtual coach that challenges you with new workouts, tracks your progress and shows you where and how you can improve. It also keeps you motivated and pushing past your limits.
  • Peak’s brain training games are made by experts from prestigious universities like Cambridge, Yale, UCL, and King’s College London.

Free vs Paid: The free version of Peak includes a brain workout of a few randomly assigned games a day, plus basic insights into your statistics. Note that you can only play these games once a day.

Upgrading to PRO will grant you access to the full Peak experience. This includes tailored workouts, insightful analysis, and a vaster array of over 40 games.

Note: you can play Peak’s cognitive games only on mobile devices.

10 similar apps for cognitive development

10 apps that help with cognitive development
  1. Cognifit Brain Fitness: scientifically validated brain games;
  2. Brain Trainer: left and right brain training;
  3. Brain Gymmer: the online gym for your brain;
  4. Happy Neuron: the pioneering brain training concept;
  5. Queendom: brain training and personality tests;
  6. Braingle: brain teasers, riddles, trivia, games, and more;
  7. Brainturk: brain training games for all;
  8. NeuroNation: fitness for your brain funded by federal ministries;
  9. BrainHQ: your online headquarters for working out your brain;
  10. Brainwell: personalized brain training program just for you.

5 Old-School Cognitive Games for Adults

Besides the many digital alternatives we have on our plate today, old-school games remain a surefire way to train our brains.

1. Sudoku, a 4000 year old game

A sheet of Sudoku, a 4000 years old brain training game that is still being played.

Solving mathematical puzzles like Sudoku is an efficient way to exercise your brain muscles. The 4000 years old game allows us to:

“...distill complication into elemental clarity.”

Edward Rothstein, 9 Little Numbers Create a Big Challenge

I must admit that Sudoku is something that my mom does every day. And she’s far from being a beginner. Actually, on the Sudoku sheets that she scribbles on, you can read: “difficulty level: Evil.” And this proves that Sudoku works.

This ancient cognitive game trained the brain parts working with numbers, improved her attention, focus, and all the other skills needed to solve a Sudoku. That’s why she now solves such high-difficulty Sudokus.

You know that saying: “One Sudoku a day keeps the doctor away”.

Note: you can play Sudoku using a pen and paper, or online.

2. Crosswords

Crosswords, one of the cognitive games for adults, and newspapers

Scientific research has shown that doing crosswords keeps your cognitive abilities in shape. This kind of activity is widely recommended, but it works wonders especially for late adults.

You can go to your nearest library or newsstand to buy some physical sets of crosswords. If you prefer the digital world, you can always download the New York Times’ famous Crosswords app, or try AARP’s daily crosswords.

Alternatively, you can choose one of the many others available in the app stores.

3. Trivia games

Panel representing the essence of a trivia quiz

Although considered by many a way to have fun along with your dear ones, trivia games can bring significant improvements.

It’s a known fact that our neurons work by building connections. So, by trying to remember things in a trivia round, you are strengthening those connections.

We can play trivia games on general knowledge or on a specific topic like movies, TV shows, religion, music, sports, geography, history, etc.

4. Card and board games

Man playing chess, a brain training board game.

Cognitive games can take a wide variety of shapes, and adults of all ages can enjoy them. But, among this variety, board games can boast with the fact that they’ve attracted whole generations along the centuries.

study released in 2014 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison established that:

“participants who engaged in cognitive activities like card games have higher brain volume, in specific regions, compared to peers who played fewer or no games,”

Ozioma C. Okonkwo, the study’s senior author

Board games that will train your brain:

  • Chess;
  • Puzzles;
  • Poker;
  • Shogi (Japanese chess);
  • Bridge;
  • Scrabble, and more.

5. Use creative hobbies for cognitive development

Painting, one of the cognitive games that can develop any adult's brain

Letting our creative juices flow in activities like painting, singing, knitting, woodworking, or anything else that stimulates imagination is very healthy for our brains.

TIP: Watching animated movies is a great way to stimulate your imagination when you feel dry on the creative side. See why your mind needs to watch animated movies.

Yet, we can get this a step further. Therefore, if we also try to improve our skills in those hobbies that we love and make us creative, our cognitive abilities will keep growing.

“Embracing a new activity that also forces you to think and learn and requires ongoing practice can be one of the best ways to keep the brain healthy.”

Dr. John N. Morris, director of social and health policy research at the Harvard-affiliated Institute for Aging Research – Harvard study.

To sum up, whether you prefer playing on your mobile devices or you would like to use something more tangible like a wooden chessboard, you now have a wide variety of cognitive games that are proven to help adults’ brains develop and function better.

All you need to do now is to establish a strong brain training routine and stick to it. Start challenging your mind’s muscles and stop letting them procrastinate. As a result, you will see tremendous improvements in the way your brain works.

What cognitive games do you play to keep your brain in shape? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

Written by
Claudiu Pop from Unfold Today, face portrait.
Claudiu Pop is a nutritionist, medical writer, journalist and the founder of Unfold Today. He also has Master level studies in social psychology, which have helped him cover mental health topics.
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