Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Brainier than thou? Maybe not, if you're relying on Lumosity

Us geezers-in-the-making make a lot of little "jokes" about senior moments. There's so much stuff built up in our brains, and our neuro-engines may not be firing on quite as many cylinders as they once were, so whenever something isn't quite working, we're concerned. 

When we forget the reason we're now standing in the bedroom. (For a sweater, of course: we're cold.) Or fumble for the name of the actor who played Beaver Cleaver's father. (Hugh Beaumont.) Or grasp for a word that should be on our tongue's little pink tip. (Syncopate? Sycophant?) 

We start to think ugly thoughts. Is this it? Is this the beginning of the end? Are we just days away from staring off into space, drooling in our bibs? 

So we make a lame whistling-past-the-graveyard kind of joke. 

Thus it's understandable that, when we hear an ad for something like Lumosity that suggests that using their services will sharpen up our wits and ward off Alzheimer's, our not so keen ears pick up on it.

Although I did sign my dog nephew up for the pooch equivalent - Dognition - I never did jump for Lumosity. 

Mostly I figured that I do enough brain-goosing things - crossword puzzles, sudoku, rattling off the 50 state capitals - that I'll  be able to keep the bad things at bay. And I do know that some very, very bad things can happen. I've never been up close and personal, but I've seen friends and family members coping with stricken friends and family members, and it's beyond awful.

There is, fortunately, no history of Alzheimer's on either side of my family. We're, luckily, the 'still have all their marbles' types. When she died, my Grandmother Rogers was a few weeks short of her 97th brithday, and the only marble I remember her losing was on the day she moved out of her home of 60+ years and in with my Aunt Margaret. When I went into see Nanny an hour or so before the big move, I found her sitting there, looking through the Worcesrter phone book. I asked her what she was doing. She told me that she wanted to see her name in the phone book for one last time, but couldn't find it. Turns out, she was looking for the name Mary Jane Trainor. At that point, she'd been Mary Jane Rogers for 66 years. 

On my mother's side, our shining example is my Aunt Mary, pushing 91 and still sharp as a tack. When I get off the phone with her, I'm always amazed by how with it she is, how she hasn't lost a beat. She sounds like someone 20 years younger than she is.

So, knock on wood, I should be okay.

But even without Alzheimer's, there are plenty of things that, as you age, slip slide away from most of us.

Thus the appeal of Lumosity.

And, now: 
The creators and marketers of the Lumosity "brain training" programs have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges alleging that they deceived consumers with unfounrded claims that Lumosity games can help users perform better at work and in school, and reduce or delay cognitive impairment associated with age and other serious health conditions. (Source: Bloomberg)
The original fine was $50M, but Lumosity doesn't have that kind of scratch, so the FTC decreased the levy to $2M. 
"Lumosity preyed on consumers' fears about age-related cognitive decline, suggestingt 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."
In addition to the complaint about false advertising claims, Lumosity has been implicated in a bit of a payola thing, as well. Some of those glowing consumer testimonials on their website "had been solicited through contests that promised signficant prizes, including a free iPad, a lifetime Lumosity subscription, and a round-trip to San Francisco."

Actually, this latter charge doesn't seem all that egregious to me. Companies often offer customers an incentive to do something nice for them. It does NOT necessarily mean that what those customers said was scripted, exaggerated, or not a true expression of what those customers truly believed. (Even if what they believed was bullshit.)

But those exaggerated bullshit claims that appear in their promotions... Not good. And yet I have a tiny bit of sympathy for marketers. It's easy enough to accept claims about their products and services that are handed to marketing at face value and put them out there for the public. They may not be making things up; but they may not be checking things out, either.  Someone hands you a list of "facts", the inclination will pretty much always be to run with it, not question it. 

Anyway, Lumosity is out $2M, which may end up putting them out of commission. And us old-geezers-in-the-making our out the belief that there may be a fun and simple way to gamify our way out of the inevitable.

I'll just have to stick to sudoku and genetics, and hope they'll do the trick.

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