Rev Up Your Brain Cells for ‘Stroke of Genius’

An fMRI image shows a healthy control’s brain activity during a cognitive exercise that was part of a clinical trial at the UC Comprehensive Stroke Center.

If you like video games and testing your smarts, you will not want to miss the Stroke of Genius Challenge. For a mere $10, which supports research and education at the Comprehensive Stroke Center at the University of Cincinnati Gardner Neuroscience Institute, one of four institutes of the UC College of Medicine and UC Health, you can enjoy 30 days of the brain-building game Lumosity and score points, which can be redeemed for prizes. The event is chaired by Emily Goodall, Senior Clinical Trials Coordinator and Community Liaison for the UC Stroke Team. A celebration, hosted by Bob Davis of Firehouse Grill, will take place Saturday, October 12.

Lumosity – not to be confused with the recent LumenoCity light display in Cincinnati’s Washington Park — is a web-based platform that uses brain-training games to help you improve your memory and flexibility, speed, attention and problem-solving skills. Each day you train, your Personalized Training Program generates a new session tailored to help you make progress on your priorities. Lumosity is also helping researchers study cognition. Neuroscientists from around the world are using the platform in 38 research projects, including the study of Lumosity’s effects on emotional control, its potential as an effective cultivator of emotion regulation abilities, and its ability to curb anxiety.

According to its website, Lumosity has “the world’s largest and fastest growing database on human cognition,” with more than 40 million research subjects and more than 780 million cognitive gameplays.

For the greater good of the UC Comprehensive Stroke Center, I am giving Lumosity the old college try. It is a noble gesture in that I do not like tests or anything else that points to the weaknesses in my humble brain. I am also particularly wary of anything that addresses spatial skills, having incurred the permanent shame of scoring in the 14th percentile in spatial reasoning in ninth grade. Ask me where the dot will be if you rotate the cube counterclockwise, and I will turn my back and ignore you.

So this is what I learned about Lumosity. The tests start out easy, making you feel rather competent, and then quickly accelerate into more difficult territory. A fast-paced exercise known as “Speed Match” exercised my brain’s ability to process information. It presented a quick series of shapes and required me to click on the right arrow if the shape was like the preceding shape, or the left arrow if it was different. Not too difficult, and I flourished in this one.

The program then informed me that, “A majority of the population is deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish and flax seed oil and are important for the development and maintenance of brain function.” I made a mental note.

On to test #2, which was a “Memory Matrix” that “exercises spatial recall: the ability to remember an item’s location.” This is something like remembering where you hid the Visa bill that you didn’t want your spouse to see and definitely not as bad as trying to figure out where the dot on the cube will be if you rotate the cube counterclockwise three times and turn it upside down.

In this exercise, I was presented with a square grid with some of the squares filled in. The goal is to remember the filled-in squares when presented with a blank grid. Again, nice and easy at first and then a lot harder with lots of squares and two random patterns of squares filled in. I made lots of mistakes this time.

“Lost in Migration”

In my final exercise for the day, an attention-building game called “Eagle Eye,” the computer produced a picture of a bird somewhere on the screen and a number, from one to five. After the images disappeared, I was to mouse over where the bird and been and then click on the number that had fleetingly accompanied the bird. This is clearly a skill for a fighter pilot, whose eyes might need to track stimuli both left and right. As for me, I was so captivated by the bird that more than once I completely forgot to look at the number, which had disappeared by the time I decided to look for it. Still, I managed to get enough right that I acquired my own virtual “bird journal.” What’s not to love about that?

So yes, I can see how this might be addicting. On Day 2 I started laughing hysterically during a problem solving exercise as little raindrops filled with simple arithmetic began falling faster than I could key in the answers. But I also learned an important lesson during a verbal fluency game when I rushed through a timed exercise, badly misspelling the word “shenanigans” and losing points, rather than taking my time and spelling it correctly. It was a reminder that even when time is of the essence, accuracy remains paramount.

My experience with Lumosity had only one negative side-effect. The night after my first day of brain-building I dreamed that I was back in college. My parents had come to visit me, but at the last minute I realized I couldn’t join them because I had a past-due English paper for Mr. Jenkins, my toughest prof, that I had completely forgotten to write.

— Cindy Starr

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