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Computer games at work improve mental well-being, memory

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At some companies, there’s no need to hide your computer when working. 

Companies like Cerner Corp., an electronic medical records provider based in Kansas City, Mo., actually sanction game playing, so long as you’re playing one of the brain games it offers as part of its employee wellness program.

Cerner and a handful of other companies are using get-smart software, called MyBrainSolutions, to help employees improve concentration, focus and memory, help manage stress, increase their positive thinking and boost their overall executive function.  The brain games dovetail another trend of companies offering social gaming-based employee wellness programs.

Related: How social networking can improve your workout

 

“We put such an emphasis on our physical health that we thought it was time to put an emphasis on our mental health,” said Arielle Bogorad, director of benefits, strategy and wellness initiatives at Cerner. 

The company just completed a 12-week pilot program to see whether employees liked it. They did. About 2,000 employees signed up, more than was expected. It’s something everyone can do for their emotional health, without the stigma of seeking psychological help, said Bogorad, although she was quick to add that the games are not a replacement for seeing a specialist if someone has more serious mental health issues.

The 28 games are based on scientific literature from neuroscience and cognitive behavior, said Gregory Bayer, CEO of Brain Resource Inc., which developed the software. The company has also conducted its own research into the program’s effectiveness. The percentage of employees who participate in the brain games software ranges from between 10 and 30 percent. That compares to typical wellness programs, which tend to have about 10 to 15 percent participation rates.

“When we follow employees using the program, we see improvements in their management of anxiety, depression and stress, and we also see gains in productivity,” Bayer said. In an outcome study they conducted at Nationwide Insurance, which is using the software, they found an 8 percent improvement in productivity, 7 percent decrease in absenteeism and 10 percent gains in stress management and emotional resilience, Bayer said.

First, employees take a 30-minute computer-based assessment, which analyzes how they do in different brain domains, such as memory, attention, emotional resilience and executive function.

The results highlight your brain strengths and areas that need help. The program then suggests games (and other online tools) to help strengthen those skills. Each game focuses the brain on a certain task.

To improve your memory, you can play a Concentration-like game, in which you flip over cards and match images. To enhance positive thinking, there’s a game that requires you to click on smiling faces, rather than frowns or grimaces. A particularly challenging attention game requires you to balance a basketball on the tip of the cursor, without letting it drop, while increasing numbers of balls (distractions) are thrown your way. Games becomes more and more challenging as you master each level.

“The data we have suggest .. if you train for 10 minutes three times a week, you’ll see improvements in attention and memory, overall better brain health and more emotional resilience,” Bayer said.

The most popular games? Those that improve memory.

Laurie Tarkan is an award-winning health journalist whose work appears in the New York Times, among other national magazines and websites. She blogs about the Affordable Care Act for the WellBeeFile. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.