Post Published on February 7, 2014.
Last Updated on April 21, 2016 by davemackey.
I’m a fan of Dr. Daniel Amen. I’ve read several of his books and think his ideas about SPECT scans fascinating – if controversial. I appreciate the way he tries to determine exactly what is causing specific mental conditions to refine treatment methods and also his use of non-medicinal and alternative medicine options for treatment.
In a recent email newsletter there was something about his Brain Life Fit program – I wish I had kept the email. It sounded like a new and revolutionary program for brain health – and I wanted to try it (of course).
I’m already a paying Lumosity customer – but I respect Dr. Amen’s work and it sounded like a much more comprehensive program than what Dr. Amen offered. Here are my observations on Brain Fit Life, especially in comparison to Lumosity.
Complicated Sign Up
The process started off easily enjoy, I clicked Join Now on the BrainFitLife site, but was soon transferred over to the MindWorks store on the Amen Clinics site. If I didn’t already have an account with MindWorks (I did) I would have had to create one. I had to order BrainFitLife through the MindWorks store.
Once I completed the purchase I received an email with a link to setup my BrainFitLife account. This account uses a separate username and password from the MindWorks account – so for anyone who is totally new to Amen Clinics, you have to setup two accounts just to get started.
I really wanted to like BrainFitLife, but I’m afraid there is more bad news. During the signup process there are several places where one is invited to click on a link but no link exists. Further there are a number of grammatical and spelling errors – this does not represent the level of professionalism I expect from an organization as prestigious as the Amen Clinics.
BrainFitLife’s Dashboard is called (confusingly) “My Homepage Journal.” It is somewhat aesthetically pleasing (the My Anchor Images ruins it for me) but is overwhelming with the number of icons. On the left-hand side one can choose from different sections of the site – and to the right are icons for tracking various aspects of your health. All of these icons are designed using the same basic pattern and colors – this makes it confusing whether the icons on the left are for different functions than the icons on the right (they are).
Assess My Brain
That is okay though – if the content is really good I can plod through a complicated sign up process, inferior design, and a confusing dashboard. Let’s try Assessing My Brain. This is where the site stands out a little – it allows you to take an assessment which then tells you what sort of brain it thinks you have – based on Dr. Amen’s methodology (see his books to understand more about this methodology). I have a “Impulsive, Compulsive, Sad, Anxious” brain – boy, doesn’t that sound cheerful and optimistic?
The Assessment also looks at brain health (e.g. memory, focus, impulse control) and then generates a customized plan based on your specific brain type, strengths, and weaknesses.
It gives you a list of recommended brain training games, recommended exercises, and recommended supplements. That is pretty nifty. In comparison, Lumosity doesn’t offer an analysis of your brain type – they are focused solely on strengths/weaknesses of your brain – not mental illness. Lumosity also doesn’t offer recommendations of exercises or supplements.
- If you click on a recommended game it takes you to the games page – a list of games – but not to the specific game you clicked on.
Know My Motivation
In the Know My Motivation section I can add “anchor images” – visual reminders of what matters to me. These are the images that show up on the dashboard I mentioned previously. Its a nifty idea – though the implementation on the dashboard is sub-optimal. Images can be much more powerful than words.
Then there are a number of forms to fill out, “5 Results from Being Healthy,” “5 Results from Being Unhealthy,” “5 People or Places that Support Being Healthy,” “5 People or Places that Support an Unhealthy Life,” and “Future of My Life.” This is a good process to work through – what matters, why it matters, what helps/hurts, and what we want out of life – but the presentation is quite simplistic and not much of a value-add. You can find pen and paper worksheets that provide similar processes and Simpleology offers a better implementation of the goals concept.
There is another “tab” called “One Page Miracle” – sounds pretty awesome…but it is basically another pen and paper form that talks about different life areas – children, grandchildren, significant other, other family members, brain, physical, spirituality, interest, work, finances, and friends. Hope you read the instructions at some earlier point – b/c there aren’t any now! Gahh! Once again, very simple functionality. I’d like to see Simpleology implement something similar.
Know My Numbers
In this section Dr. Amen suggests that you should know a number of values regarding your body and have them regularly updated – this is something he talks about in his books as well. I think it is a great idea – but he doesn’t say how to accomplish this. I would recommend WellnessFX and think a partnership with them would make great sense for Dr. Amen.
They make it simple and affordable to get your blood drawn and tested almost anywhere in the United States. They provide results and analysis via a web-based interface and also can provide personalized, live coaching regarding your results and recommended changes in your regimen.
They also track almost all of these “numbers” automatically – so why waste time reentering them?
I’d love to see Lumosity integrate with WellnessFX as well and provide charting of how these numbers correlate with brain performance.
Train My Brain
Ack! This page hurts my eyes! I recommend the designers go take a look at Lumosity’s site, it is so much more aesthetically pleasing…but I can overcome aesthetic issues if the product is good enough, how are the train my brain games?
Hmmm…Inferior. Well, at least they feel inferior. They are not as refined as Lumosity’s games, there isn’t as much explanation as to how the game helps your brain, and honestly, I have high doubts about the effectiveness of some of the games. With Lumosity you can feel your brain stretching – with some of these games (e.g. shooting a target with an arrow and adjusting for wind issues) I have a hard time believing it is doing anything for my brain health.
Another example is one of the thoughts for training your mind to think more positively. It shows up bubbles with words in them – some words are positive, others are negative – you are supposed to click on the positive ones and let the negative ones fall…I really can’t see this beign a big help.
They do have “games” in several areas that Lumosity does not – and these are interesting, though their functionality can be reproduced by other web applications and processes – many freely available. For example they have games whereby one can engage in relaxation techniques, but you could also use the free Calm.com service.
- “the more the use it”
- “selected for just for you and play one now”
Once a game has completed your only option is to play again – there should be an exit option.
The names of the games are extremely uncreative, “e-Think Focus” or “e-Motion Faces.” Yes, everything is electronic – I am running this on a computer – which is electronic. I mean, e-Motion faces is a little cute, but all the games I looked at are practically name in this same exact manner – and most don’t have the cute factor – e.g. e-Think Focus – nothing cute or really informative there.
There are images associated with each game – they are clickable, but clicking on them does nothing. You have to click a separate button underneath the game to play it or learn more about it.
Train My Body
But there is more! Maybe the Train My Body section will set Lumosity in it’s place? I mean, Lumosity doesn’t have anything for physical training. Unfortunately, no.
This section has a few links to PDF articles with basic exercise instructions and a few blog articles. I wasn’t impressed.
Then there is the “Workout Log/Plan” – which really seems to be a workout log, not a workout plan. As far as I can tell you can set up a “plan” for a single day – but have to recreate the plan every following day – and can’t set up future days in advance.
Change My Thoughts
A basic method of reprogramming one’s brain to be more optimistic/positive is recognizing and countering Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs). This portion of the site provides a very basic, simple workflow that takes you through the process of identifying your ANT, choosing a response to the ANT, etc. Again, can be replicated very easily with pen and paper. If I’m trying to help someone get the most bang for their buck, I’d much rather that they bought David Burn’s Feeling Good which provides a self-help manual of sorts based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with lots of helpful worksheets.
The tool returns results like, “Guilt is generally not a helpful emotion. It often backfires and can be counterproductive to your goals. The problem is that when we feel pushed or guilted into doing things our natural tendency is to push back. It?s better to replace ?guilt beating? with phrases like ?I want to do this,? or, ?It fits with my goals to do that. ?” This occurs when one uses an unsupported font and is a rookie design mistake. If the correct font is used these question marks should appear as single or double quotation marks.
Take My Supplements
I like that Dr. Amen recommends supplements for me. I can figure out what supplements I should be taking using his book – but that is a bit complex and time consuming. The web application does it all for me.
Let’s see what Dr. Amen recommends for me:
Price for One Month Supply
Everyday Stress Relief
Magnesium 30 mg, Relora 750 mg, L-Theanine 200 mg, Holy Basil Extract 600 mg1Now Foods True Calm Amino Relaxer has Niacin 45 mg, Vitamin B-6 8 mg, Magnesium 13 mg, GABA 200 mg, Glycine 200 mg, Taurine 200 mg, Inositol 100 mg, Valerian 25 mg. It includes three months supply and costs $8.04 on Amazon. Now Foods offers a Holy Basil Extract product with three months supply at 500 mg for $12.07 on Amazon. A four month supply of Relora from Now Foods on Amazon is $18.90 with each capsule containing 300 mg. Finally, a two month supply of L-Theanine from the same on Amazon is $16.46 and has 200 mg per capsule. I’m not going to spend the time doing the math – but it should be pretty evident that this supplement seems exorbitantly more expensive than a similar mix from retail.
Focus and Energy Optimizer
Green Tea 600 mg, Ashwagandha 250 mg, Rhodiola Rosea Extract 200 mg, Panax Ginseng Extract 200 mg, Choline 55 mg2NOW Foods has Green Tea Extract, 250 pills, for $12.99; Ashwagandha, 90 pills, with 450 mg, for $11.46; Rhodiola, 60 pills, 500 mg, for $9.99; Panax Ginseng, 250 pills, 500 mg, for $18.02. You get the idea.
Omega 3 Power
Total Omega-3 Fatty Acids 1600 mg, EPA 850 mg, DHA 575 mg, Other 175 mg
Vitamin A 5000 IU, C 200 mg, D-3 2000 IU, E 70 IU, K-2 45 mcg, B1 15 mg, B2 17 mg, B3 50 mg, B5 50 mg, B6 20 mg, Folic Acid 400 mcg, B12 500 mcg, Calcium 50 mg, Iodine 75 mcg, Magnesium 50 mg, Zinc 7.5 mg, Selenium 200 mcg, Copper 1 mg, Manganese 5 mg, Chromium 200 mcg, Molybdenum 50 mcg, Biotin 300 mcg, Choline 55 mg, Vanadium 25 mcg, Lycopene 3 mg, Lutein 3 mg, Quercetin 30 mg, Choline Bitartrate 55 mg, Broccoli Sprout Powder 50 mg, Hesperidin Complex 20 mg, Trans-Resveratrol 10 mg, Pterostilbene 20 mcg, Proprietary Fruit and Vegetable Blend 140 mg, Proprietary Brain Boosting Blend 575 mg, Full Spectrum Digestive Enzyme Blend 30 mg.
$9.953This is for 100 tablets.
Vitamin D-3 1000 IU.
SAMe Mood & Movement
S-Adenosylmethionine 200 mg.
Serotonin Mood Support
Vitamin B6 20 mg, Inositol 1000 mg, Saffron Extract 176.5 mg, 5-Hydroxytryptophan 100 mg.
$217.03 (after 15% BrainFitLife member discount)
Ouch! That is a lot of money! Over $200/mo. on vitamins? Well, you can’t put a price on health – right? What if the health you get is way more expensive than similar health someone else gets? Hmmm…I don’t like that. It seems to me there is a pretty huge markup on these vitamins.
Lets take a look at just one example – the Omega-3 supplement. It costs $24.95/mo. through MindWorks. I use Coromega, which is a tasty, yogurt-like ketchup-sized packet and pay $25.09 for a three month supply (wow, three months for the same price as one of Dr. Amen’s Omega-3?!).
But what about the ingredients? Here is a comparison:
Total Omega-3 Fatty Acids
So, Dr. Amen’s are more potent – but if I take two Coromega per day, I still end up getting 1.5 months supply to every 1 months supply of Dr. Amen’s – and personally, I think Coromega’s form has better absorption than pills and doesn’t cause fish burps (and actually tastes good!).
I appreciate the breakdown of recommended supplements – but I can’t see myself buying them through MindWorks.
Eat Right to Think Right
Once again, not very impressed. Some blog articles and videos. All the blog articles and videos appear to be freely available via the BrainFitLife – so a subscription isn’t needed.
But there is a Meal Planner – errr, make that a meal logger? I don’t really see how it helps me plan meals (at least not more than a day in advance). It also has an incredibly small “library” or foods. I’d recommend Noom or Fitbit over this Meal Logger any day.
They do have a number of healthy recipes – and that is cool – and they include nutritional values – which is even cooler – but they are also freely available via the blog. The formatting of the recipes is nice – includes instructions, nutritional values, ingredients, and an appetizing photo of said food.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to hide steps you’ve completed – for example, there is a “Meet Tana Your Nutrition Coach” which once clicked leads you to a blog article. Great – now I know Tana – but I really don’t need to see a link to getting to know her every time I visit Eat to Think Right.
One other annoyance is that the blog posts reference all sorts of studies but then don’t provide any citation information. I don’t doubt that what Dr. Amen and Tana Amen are saying is true – but I’d like to know what the original studies/sources are so I can read up on the topic further!
Grammatical and Spelling Issues:
- “I have come up with The Amen Soltuion…”
- “For example, people suffering from major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic attacks have high rates of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), mental disorders, a 2009 study found.” – What? I don’t understand? There is a list of mental disorders, then the fact that these are associated with IBS and with mental disorders? IBS makes sense, but what is this about mental disorders?
- “After age 2, kids’ bodies produce less and lesslactase…”
- You can add custom foods to the meal log, but the button to do so is under water consumption – this makes it confusing – one immediately associates it with water consumption rather than the meal log.
- Suggests watching Dr. Robert Lustig’s lecture “The Bitter Truth” on YouTube but does not link to the video.
- “Before you go, make sure to leave a comment below.” – But comments are not enabled.
Soothe My Stress
The Soothe My Stress section includes a few games – for example ones that help you practice relaxation techniques. This is one of the more unique and impressive areas of BrainFitLife – but not nearly enough to convince me to pay up. It also contains a number of meditative/hypnotic audio videos – but you can find similar videos across the web for free (see, e.g. Calm.com).
Break My Barriers, Cravings and Addictions
Ooh, I want to see what this section contains! I have an addictive personality – I’ve struggled all my life with sugar consumption, sometimes binge on TV, etc. There are three short videos – less than 20 minutes combined – and that is it. Bummer.
Get Better Together
There is a community aspect to the site – but I’m not sure what software they are using to power it, but it seems pretty basic. It allows for status updates, forums, live chats, and calendaring – but I don’t see notification options or other essential features.
On the positive side, there are live coaches who monitor the site and perform regular live coaching sessions…I’ve never been too big on them though.
Trackers are cool. They let you track all sorts of things – mood, sleep, focus, energy, anxiety, cravings, memory, motivation, and so on. The implementation on BrainFitLife is fairly basic. If you have a Fitbit, it includes much more robust tracking…or you can try a free service like Trackthisfor.me. MedHelp also had fairly robust tracking tools for free. I do like the idea behind the “gratitude” tracker – which is a little different in that one doesn’t just keep track of numeric values but actual items one is thankful for.
There are a number of videos featuring Dr. Amen throughout, these are neat and informative and short (which I like) but the videos are poor quality (the way they were resized causes rough edges on whatever is on the screen – e.g. Dr. Amen). Dr. Amen is very expressive in the videos (lots of hand motions) – a little more expressive than I’d suggest, but to each his own.
There is a very simple but helpful help overlay when you first login…unfortunately if you click on Get Help later you get that same basic overlay – at least if you click on it on the Dashboard page. On some other pages (e.g. Change My Thoughts), clicking on it does nothing but reload the page.
It is neat that they have an option to receive SMS (text message) reminders at specific times to remind you to do certain tasks (e.g. update trackers, take supplements).
The “Manage My Account” link takes you out of BrainFitLife and back to MindWorks which is annoying.
In some places under Quick Links there are two “My Brain Type” links – they lead to separate places but share the same name – quite confusing.
BrainFitLife is too expensive ($8.25/mo.) for what it offers. It claims this is a reduced rate from the normal $29.95/mo. – which is either a price they never plan to charge (but makes it look like a must-get-now value) or it is an outrageous charge.
BrainFitLife is a great idea, but a poor implementation. Lumosity is a definite keeper.
I don’t know why this happens but I notice that oftentimes as an organization/personality grows bigger the quality of the product decreases. I’ve felt similarly about some of John Maxwell’s materials. I’m not sure if it is the need to turn out a constant line of new products/services to keep income flowing, too little time, too wide spread of a focus, or what – but I hate to see it. One ends up with a lot of half-baked products/services from someone folks trust to provide them only with the best. This is a real bummer – I’d encourage folks to do less better.
I hope Dr. Amen will take this as constructive criticism and ramp up his endeavors with BrainFitLife. It has real potential – but it isn’t there yet. I’d suggest expanding the development and design teams and acquiring some other businesses or at least partnering with them to integrate their functionality. I mentioned some great places to start – e.g. WellnessFX, Noom, Fitbit, Simpleology, Trackthisfor.me, and even Lumosity!