10-Year Study Claims Brain Training Works, But Some Experts Are Skeptical

By | November 17th, 2017

In an intervention-related win for Alzheimer’s prevention, researchers at the University of South Florida have found that computerized brain-training games lowered the risk for dementia in a study of over 2,800 adults over 10 years. And this was no small increase—participants in brain-training games had a 29 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s.

The study, known as the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly study (or ACTIVE, for short) followed seniors who were an average age of 74 at the beginning of the study. Participants were in one of four groups: the control group, which received no intervention, a group which received instruction on memory exercises, a group which received instruction on reasoning strategies and a group that received  individualized computerized speed of processing training. Those who were in the cognitive training groups received 10 hour-long sessions of training at the start of the study.

Patients were assessed for cognitive function at the beginning of the study, after six weeks, and at the one, two, three, five and 10-year marks. The strategy and reasoning training groups showed no significant difference in dementia risk from the control group. The speed of processing group, however, showed almost a 30 percent risk reduction. And not only that—those who used the program more often made better strides in lowering dementia risk.

“When we examined the dose-response, we found that those who trained more received more protective benefit,” said lead study author Jerri Edwards, Ph.D., University of South Florida.

Outside groups, though, were not so quick to conclude the benefits of brain training. “This study hints that a particular type of brain training may help people to ward off dementia, but due to limitations of the research, we can’t confidently conclude this,” said Doug Brown, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s  Society in the U.K. A statement by the association said the dementia diagnosis portion of the study was not performed to clinical standards.

“As computerised brain training has the potential to help a lot of people in a really cost-effective way, this area of research should remain a high priority,” said Brown. “There are currently a number of studies looking at the effect of computer brain training on dementia, including a large UK study funded by Alzheimer’s Society. Combining these results with those from other studies should help us to have a clearer picture.

The study was not initially created to measure dementia, but at the five-year mark the researchers decided to extend the study by another five years and test for dementia due to the positive results they were seeing. Their definition of dementia was broad, and included those who were reported to have dementia by themselves or family, those who were cognitively impaired and those who had dementia according to the Mini-Mental State Examination.

Still, the numbers offer some hope to those who may be grasping at any prevention method possible, especially if they’re seen a loved one develop the disease or are genetically inclined to develop Alzheimer’s themselves.

The specific activity the speed of processing group trained on was one that required them to identify a specific object (like a car) on the middle of a computer screen, while also locating the same object in the periphery. As the user got more answers correct, the test speeds up.

This type of testing has been studied for many years. It’s also known as “useful field of view training,” and is exclusively licensed by Posit Science Corporation. Outside of the study, it’s available as the “Double Decision” exercise of the BrainHQ.com brain training program.


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