Brain Games and Memory Care

Sunrise Senior Living  |  August 8, 2016
Researchers presented evidence at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference that shows brain games could reduce one's risk of developing dementia.

Researchers presented evidence at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference that shows brain games could reduce one's risk of developing dementia.

There are a number of lifestyle choices you can make to reduce your risk of developing dementia. Those include eating a proper diet, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly, according to the U.K.'s National Health Service. But a new analysis shows that keeping your brain active might lower your chances, too. Researchers presented evidence at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference that a computerized brain training program reduced the risk of dementia for healthy people by 48 percent.

The first study
The original study, ACTIVE, examined 2,785 healthy older adults over a 10-year period who participated in cognitive-training software, or "brain games." The participants were divided into three different training groups: memory improvement, reasoning and speed-of-processing.

During the study, the adults engaged in 10 one-hour sessions over a five-week period. These computerized trainings highlighted visual perception, where the adults had to identify objects as they appeared on screen. The program became harder when the questions were answered correctly.

At the one and two year mark after the original training, participants received "booster" training sessions. The researchers then analyzed the cognitive differences after one, two, three, five and 10 years to see if the training made an impression on their overall mental health.

In 2014, the results were published. Researchers found that there were positive results for the speed-of-processing and reasoning training groups, but not in memory.

The new analysis
According to Reuters, a new analysis was performed by Dr. Jerri Edwards of the University of South Florida. Dr. Karlene Ball of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Edwards' mentor, sold the rights to the underlying computer program over to Posit Science. It is now involved in the brain training program of Posit Science's

During the new analysis, Edwards looked at the study from a new angle, identifying how long it took for those participants with dementia to develop the condition. She found that the speed training group was at 33 percent less risk of developing dementia over the control group. The memory and reasoning training showed no correlation in reducing the chances.

She also found that those older adults who completed 11 training sessions were 48 percent less likely to develop dementia over the period of the study.

High hurdles remain
While these are only preliminary findings, Edwards stated that she was more than happy to present them before they were published.

"I'm sick of our studies being ignored," she told Reuters out of frustration.

The new claims face widespread skepticism, as they cut against currently accepted science. A letter signed by a group of researchers from the Stanford University's Center on Longevity and the Berlin Max Planck Institute for the Human Development stated there was not enough evidence to conclude that brain games could reduce dementia risk. 

Even so, Dr. John King, expert in social research at the National Institute of Aging, agreed that this analysis would be valuable if it gets published in a scientific journal.

"It's a promising result from an interesting data set," he told Reuters. "I do think we will know more after the paper is reviewed."

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