Saturday, January 9, 2016


The developer of the wildly popular Lumosity “brain training” games has agreed to pay $2 million in refunds to settle federal charges that it deceived customers about the cognitive and health benefits of its apps and online products.

The agreement, announced Tuesday by the Federal Trade Commission, marks the highest profile — and most costly — crackdown so far on a burgeoning industry that’s increasingly come under fire from scientists and regulators in recent months.

Regulators accused San Francisco-based Lumos Labs of making unfounded claims about what its games could do to delay the symptoms of and protect against conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and to reduce cognitive impairment from stroke and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The company built up a dedicated following of 70 million users by marketing Lumosity products directly to consumers for $15 per month, or $300 for a lifetime membership.

“Lumosity preyed on consumers’ fears about age-related cognitive decline, suggesting their games could stave off memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “But Lumosity simply did not have the science to back up its ads.”...
“Brain training” games like those marketed by Lumosity have drawn criticism from scientists as well as federal regulators. In October 2014, more than 70 psychologists and other scientists signed an open letter criticizing the industry for creating false hope among aging baby-boomers with shoddy science and implausible claims.

The FTC, meanwhile, has been looking more closely at online health products. Last year, the FTC hashed out small settlements, involving modest payments or none at all, with the marketers of two apps that claimed to detect melanoma, an app that purported to improve vision, and a brain-training computer game for children with ADHD and other learning impairments.

FTC spokesman Mitchell Katz wouldn’t comment on any ongoing cases related to brain-training or health apps, but said it’s an area of interest for the agency.
Courtesy of Doximity


  1. A Texas company that makes brain-training games for children has settled a complaint over unsubstantiated health claims, the U.S. government said on Tuesday.

    The U.S. Federal Trade Commission said Focus Education claimed in an advertisement and on its website that it could permanently improve a child's focus, memory and school performance. The company also said its technology had proven to be "highly beneficial" for children with learning impairments such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

    In a statement, the FTC said the company must stop making such claims for products including the Jungle Rangers computer game.

    The FTC said Focus Education generated sales of some $4.5 million between 2012 and mid-2013...

    It stressed on its website that its game was developed through a collaboration of scientists, researchers, doctors and parents.

    The case was among the first in which the commission has cracked down on an application developer for making unsubstantiated medical claims. Previously, the FTC fined two app developers who falsely claimed that their smartphone apps could treat and cure acne.

  2. In closing, we offer five recommendations. Some of these recommendations reflect experimental findings in human populations, whereas others are based on a synthesis of correlational evidence in humans and mechanistic knowledge about risks and protective factors.

    Much more research needs to be done before we understand whether and what types of challenges and engagements benefit cognitive functioning in everyday life. In the absence of clear evidence, the recommendation of the group, based largely on correlational findings, is that individuals lead physically active, intellectually challenging, and socially engaged lives, in ways that work for them. Before investing time and money on brain games, consider what economists call opportunity costs: If an hour spent doing solo software drills is an hour not spent hiking, learning Italian, making a new recipe, or playing with your grandchildren, it may not be worth it. But if it replaces time spent in a sedentary state, like watching television, the choice may make more sense for you.

    Physical exercise is a moderately effective way to improve general health, including brain fitness. Scientists have found that regular aerobic exercise increases blood flow to the brain, and helps to support formation of new neural and vascular connections. Physical exercise has been shown to improve attention, reasoning, and components of memory. All said, one can expect small but noticeable gains in cognitive performance, or attenuation of loss, from taking up aerobic exercise training.

    A single study, conducted by researchers with financial interests in the product, or one quote from a scientist advocating the product, is not enough to assume that a game has been rigorously examined. Findings need to be replicated at multiple sites, based on studies conducted by independent researchers who are funded by independent sources. Moreover, participants of training programs should show evidence of significant advantage over a comparison group that does not receive the treatment but is otherwise treated exactly the same as the trained group.

    No studies have demonstrated that playing brain games cures or prevents Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.

    Do not expect that cognitively challenging activities will work like one-shot treatments or vaccines; there is little evidence that you can do something once (or even for a concentrated period) and be inoculated against the effects of aging in an enduring way. In all likelihood, gains won’t last long after you stop the challenge.