Brain training, whether with puzzles and mental exercises or video games and apps is an area of neuroscience research that hasn't always shown consistent results. Companies that claimed memory gains from using their services were successfully sued in one case because the games did not provide any benefit for users.
A study from the University of Southern Florida, however, is showing some promising results for reducing the risk of dementia by using a brain training game developed by scientists there. Their study, using data from the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) project was published recently, and it could be a game changer in the arena of brain training technology.
Jerri Edwards, Ph.D., is the senior author of the work. She is a professor at the University of South Florida Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences and College of Community and Behavioral Sciences. She explained, "Speed of processing training resulted in decreased risk of dementia across the 10-year period of, on average, 29 percent as compared to the control. When we examined the dose-response, we found that those who trained more received more protective benefit."
The ACTIVE Study is one of the largest clinical research projects into dementia and aging. A total of 2,802 healthy older adults at six sites around the United States were and enrolled and followed for 10 years (as they aged from an average of 74 to 84). Participants were randomized into a control group or one of three experimental groups that underwent some form of cognitive training. The first group attended classes on memory strategies; the second group received classroom training on reasoning strategies and problem-solving. The third group participated in individual computerized "speed of processing" training. The study volunteers were given ten initial sessions of instruction over a period of six weeks. The team evaluated each volunteer and rated them on cognitive and functional abilities at the outset of the study, after the training and then at intervals of 1, 2, 3, 5 and ten years.
There were no differences in the risk of dementia between the groups who received classes on memory or reasoning strategies and the control group. However, the group of participants who took part in the computerized training on speed of processing showed a 29% risk reduction of developing dementia compared to the control group. The risk was correlated with how many brain training sessions the participants completed. Those who completed 15 or more sessions
When reviewing the impact of each computerized speed training session completed, researchers found those who completed more sessions had a lower risk. Among those who completed 15 or more sessions of computerized training, the risk of developing dementia was about 5.9% compared to 9.7 percent and 10.1 percent for the memory and reasoning groups, respectively. The control group, which did not receive any memory or reasoning instruction, had a dementia incidence rate of 10.8 percent.
The game played in the study was developed by scientists at the University of Alabama Birmingham and Western Kentucky University and is now licensed by Posit Science and available through Brain HQ.com, a brain training program. It's called "Double Decision" and measures processing speed and then asks players to "level up" by completing more complex tasks. Dr. Edwards explained what needs to happen next in this kind of research, "We need to further delineate what makes some computerized cognitive training effective, while other types are not. We also need to investigate what is the appropriate amount of training to get the best results. The timing of intervention is also important. Existing data indicate speed training is effective among older adults with and without mild cognitive impairment, but it is important to understand this is preventative to lower risk of dementia and is not a treatment for dementia. Our ongoing research is examining this intervention among persons with Parkinson's disease as well as other types of cognitive interventions."
Check out the video to learn more about this project.