What Are Attention Games?

Mary McMahon

Attention games stimulate cognition to help people develop focus and attention skills, or to assess skills in a patient. Many are designed to be entertaining and can be played for fun in addition to developing cognitive skills. A number of versions are readily available on the Internet as well as in books and on videos, and they come in a variety of formats to attract visual or auditory attention. When they are used as assessment tools, they may be administered in a clinical environment, but otherwise they can be played anywhere.

People with attention problems can play games to sharpen their skills and help them focus.
People with attention problems can play games to sharpen their skills and help them focus.

The basic premise of an attention game requires the participant to focus on a specific task. This could include matching words or sounds, tracking visual events on a screen, or using memory to complete a set of directions. Typically the games are designed to be picked up easily so people aren’t frustrated by a learning curve when they start playing. Simple directions also enable play for people with cognitive deficits who may have trouble with complex tasks.

In clinical assessment, attention games can help care providers track a patient’s ability to pay attention and complete tasks. This can be useful in people with suspected learning disabilities, to learn more about how and why a patient encounters problems with cognitive tasks. Patients in recovery from stroke, trauma, or other brain injuries can also be assessed with attention games to determine the extent of the damage. Games can also create a useful baseline to refer to in the future to see if the patient is getting better or worse over time.

People with attention problems can play games to sharpen their skills and help them focus. Young children may participate in such games to develop classroom skills, for example, especially if they have learning disabilities that interfere with their ability to focus. Older adults concerned about developing cognitive deficits may use attention games to keep their brains active. Engaging in frequent attention tasks can help people preserve cognitive abilities.

Some neurological studies also utilize attention games. In these studies, participants play a game while being observed. This can provide more information about human cognition and how the brain processes data. Tools for observation can include techniques like functional imaging studies to see which parts of the brain activate in response to different cues and tasks, which can help researchers map the brain. Studies can also show whether attention improves or declines over time with activities like meditation.

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