Cognitive Training Software

Cognitive training can be used to address behavior issues in children, memory loss in elders, and other cognitive skills. This article lists some software that's currently available and provides suggestions for what to look for when selecting cognitive training software.

Cognitive Training Software for Basic Skills

The simplest type of cognitive training software is called cause and effect -- the user does something, and the software reacts; for example, the user presses any keyboard key and music plays for a brief period of time. This gives the user a link between his/her actions and a desired outcome, which is essential for further interaction and autonomy. Many types of software can be used for this purpose -- whatever motivates the user will be effective. Individuals who cannot use a keyboard or mouse may benefit from specialized switches and matching software. RJ Cooper, Marblesoft-Simtech, and Inclusive TLC provide cause and effect and switch training software.

Cognitive Training Software for Daily Living Skills

Elementary training software teaches general skills to children, including those that their peers are learning in school (e.g., turn-taking, language and reading skills) as well as those that address a behavior modification need (e.g., anger management). There is also software for teenagers and adults to teach more advanced skills that would be relevant to employment, independent living, or social interactions, such as workplace etiquette, shopping, self-care, paying bills, and dating. PCI Education, Laureate Learning Systems, and Attainment Company offer software in this area.

Cognitive Training Software for Skill Restoration

People who have experienced a brain injury or dementia may need assistance regaining one or more types of skills. Software programs can provide this through memory stimulation and/or cognitive re-training. The companies listed above under "Daily Living Skills" have software that can assist with skill restoration.


Captain’s Log is cognitive retraining software designed for people with various types of cognitive disabilities that has been around for many years. Categories for retraining, such as “Fine Motor Speed" and "Visuospacial Clarification," are selected. The user is then presented with activities related to the selected categories; e.g., a game where the user is shown images of playing cards and prompted to click their mouse only when a card with diamonds on it is shown. Responses are recorded and may later be analyzed by a clinician.
Cognitive Training Software for Skill Retention

Elders are often concerned about maintaining their cognitive skills. The Attainment Company has had software to help with this for many years, but there are mainstream "brain fitness" products as well, such as Nintendo Brain Age. While there is general agreement that software can play a role in stimulating cognitive health, recent research is inconclusive whether personalized cognitive training software is more effective or is not more effective in improving cognitive function when compared to ordinary computer games. 

What to Look For When Choosing Cognitive Training Software

The software should be:

  • Engaging. The software should keep the user enthusiastic or at least interested. The program should have enough variation so that the user does not become bored from being asked to perform repetitive tasks. For example, a program for elders might alternate between language-based and math-based activities.
  • Patient. The program should consistently praise the user for successfully completing tasks, and provide helpful and encouraging messages, possibly accompanied by suggestions for improvement, when errors are made.
  • Flexible. If users want to avoid certain types of activities altogether (e.g., time-dependent activities that would require the user to move the mouse or hit keys faster than their physical capabilities allow), the user should be able to specify that these activities will not be presented to them.
  • Relevant. A program that uses tasks centered around playing with bunnies will not necessarily be relevant to 30-year-olds with more age-appropriate concerns. Try to find programs that will be engaging to the user's interests.

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