On my previous post I provided an introduction to preventive health through the lens of fascinating, innovative ventures in the field. And on this post I aim to do the same for mental health prevention. Wait…what?
Often times we associate the term ‘health’ with physical health, and tend to overlook its psychological or mental aspect, although psychiatric – neurological diseases are a significant element of the healthcare dynamics in the developed world. They cause about 1/6th of health system expenditure in Switzerland , 30% of which is related to depression. Next to depression comes Alzheimer’s which affects 5.4 million Americans and has taken more than 83,000 lives in 2010, making it the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the CDC’s latest report.
Yet, one big challenge for the restoration of mental health across today’s increasingly distressed, intellectually demanding society lies within the human mind’s mystical nature and the fact that it remains one of the most interesting, yet toughest scientific domains to study. Preventive measures for mental health are not as straightforward as those for its physical counterpart, which can be easily shortlisted by almost anyone. In contrast, there are a few widely recognized quick fixes, such as love, meditation, and brain exercise, although for none of which there is hard scientific evidence.
So where do new, innovative ventures come into play? Effects of online communication and social media on human relations are at best controversial, Skype fueled long-distance relationships are still a bit less ideal than the short-distance offline ones and peer-to-peer chakra sharing is yet unheard of. However, once we get to brain training and puzzles and games, then we have a conversation.
Established in 2005, Lumosity describes itself as an online brain training and neuroscience research company based in San Francisco. They offer more than 40 games as part of their personal training program that is claimed to be developed by scientists to improve key cognitive abilities, namely memory, working memory, visual attention, and executive function. Lumosity.com currently has more than 50 million users, its iOS app has more than 10 million downloads, and it has raised about US$65 million to date, not only making it the biggest company of its kind, but also a prominent player in the online gaming domain.
But what strikes me the most about Lumosity is how they successfully embrace – or own – the science behind gaming with a focus on preventive health. If you watch their recent ad that’s all over the TV, radio and digital especially in the US, you will see what I mean. It almost looks like a TV commercial for a pharmaceutical product with a fun, creative twist, proudly acknowledging the fact that it is what it is at the end of the day: a game.
There is no scientific consensus on the benefits of brain training for medical conditions in clinical settings, let alone in prevention from such conditions, which is much harder to study, requiring large-size longitudinal studies. Even Lumosity’s own research fails to paint a convincing picture in that sense, with small sample sizes, questionable methods, and not that impressive results. But do people buy their message? Looking at their US$ 14.95 monthly subscription fee and US$ 32 million in revenue in 2012 alone, it seems to be the case. And ultimately, that’s what matters, not what studies say about you!
So do you buy it? Be your own judge. Go on Lumosity.com and decide for yourself. It’s free to join.