Can brain training prevent dementia?

A hearing impaired elderly senior adult man wearing a hearing aid is sitting staring through the hazy, speckled, unwashed window and grungy mesh screen of a living room window at home. He has early stage dementia and will sit motionless for minutes at a time gazing engrossed at the outside world.

Can brain training prevent dementia?

Researchers who have studied the effects of computerized brain training have been a bad couple of years. In October 2014, a group of more than 70 academics issued what they called a consensus statement, claiming that playing intellectual games has proven to be slightly more effective than playing intelligence games. “Perhaps the most harmful claim to the most unscientific evidence is that brain games prevent or reverse alzheimer’s disease,” the group said. “No research has shown that playing brain games can treat or prevent alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.” Then, in January, the federal trade commission (FTC) told Lumosity, the largest and most prominent online brain game provider, $2 million, which the commission considered an unwarranted cognitive improvement claim. Even dozens of researchers (by the us national institutes of health and other government agencies with credibility), still insist that this area is not a desktop fusion or coffee science neuroscience equivalent, in fact, no mind games, no drugs, dietary supplements, or lifestyle intervention, once in a large-scale, randomized trial showed that in order to prevent dementia. Today, at the annual meeting of the alzheimer’s association in Toronto, the new results are startling.

The results are derived from the study of advanced cognitive training (active) of independent and important senior citizens. Its nearly three thousand participants were recruited in three thousand and has since won $23.6 million from the national institute on aging, the other won $10.2 million from the national institute of nursing research, the study has more than 50 peer reviewed scientific papers. Participants with an average age of 73.6 were randomly divided into four groups. The first group, controlled, had no brain training at all. The next two hours of classroom teaching improve memory or reasoning. The last group carried out some so-called processing speed training.

Imagine you’re looking at a computer screen. In the shortest moment, two images appear in the middle, one on the periphery. Then the computer prompts you to identify them. Is the central image a car or a pickup truck? Where is the second image? The more accurate, the shorter the picture, the more similar the car and the truck, the more dispersed the background. This is accelerated training. It’s always a step ahead of you, but practically everyone becomes faster and more accurate in practice.

Ten years after active, the researchers kept in touch with 47 participants. Some people have provided four hours of extra training, everyone has been tracked and retested regularly. There were more than 300 criteria for dementia, but depending on which group they were assigned, their chances were significantly different. Of those who had not received any training, 14 percent had reached the standard for dementia. (that’s about half the average American average in the mid-1980s, which isn’t surprising, since the study only started with healthy adults.) The rate of dementia in the processing speed group was slightly lower at 12.1%. Of those invited to receive additional training, 8.2% had dementia. In all, the researchers calculated that those who completed at least some of the booster meetings were 48 percent less likely to be diagnosed with dementia a decade later than those in the control group. Reasoning and memory seem to have no effect.

Susanne Jaeggi, director of the laboratory of working memory and plasticity at the university of California at irvine and one of the signatories to the 2014 consensus statement, told me: “this is an amazing finding. “We have no evidence that computerised training has a preventive effect on dementia. You might think that this study provides evidence that this is possible. “Jonathan w. King, a program scientist at the national institute on aging, which oversees active, echoed similar sentiments. Shortly before the study was published, he said: “this is remarkable. “We have not found any other devices or drugs that alter the incidence of dementia. So if something like this is checked out, it can be very interesting. ”

If you check out. That’s King, Jaeggi, and even the warning from Heather Snyder, senior director of the department of health and science at the alzheimer’s association. “It’s a study,” she told me. “We need to see it proven and replicated in larger and more diverse populations.” King notes that these findings still need to be published in peer-reviewed journals. Jaeggi says she has a hard time understanding that playing computer games for more than 10 hours can have a strong and lasting impact on the brain. “If you don’t do it ten or fourteen times, how can you continue to have that effect ten years from now?” she asked. (the king points out that one possible way is by protecting the elderly’s ability to drive a car. “Accelerated training has been shown to reduce the risk of a crash, and older people have to stop driving,” he said. “Because it applies to everyday life, it’s essentially practicable in the driving process.” )


The lead author of the new study is Jerri Edwards, an associate professor at the university of south Florida’s school of aging. She has been studying the processing speed for more than 20 years, and the original researchers were Karlene Ball of the university of Alabama at Birmingham. Previously published studies have shown that not only can improve the driving ability of old people, and can improve the ability of other important activities in everyday life, Edwards said she was not surprised by the recent findings. She told me that the question for the public and many scientists about brain training is that “people mix everything together.” Because of the active recommendation, different training methods may have different benefits, or none at all. Edwards’s new findings have prompted the alzheimer’s association to update its stance. In a paper published last year, the group said, is there enough evidence to conclude that a healthy diet, lifelong learning and brain training may reduce the risk of cognitive decline – thinking and slow reaction time in the early 20 s are known. Now, brain training may also reduce the risk of dementia.

Of course, Edwards’s findings may not stand up to peer review, or could be a fluke that others can’t replicate. Perhaps her central conclusion – more than a decade of training to reduce the risk of dementia by nearly half – would have to go back a decade later. There is no doubt that such a brief treatment for a decade of biological or behavioral explanations will have to be found. Still, Kim said that even if the Numbers were modest, “I’m sure people would still be interested, and there would be more research.” After all, how science works. People strive for their own opinions, and only after learning for more than a decade can the evidence become overwhelming. So yesterday’s heresy is today’s new consensus. Or not.



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