Can ‘brain Training’ Prevent Dementia?

Computer based cognitive training, referred to ‘brain training’ is reported to boost the memory and thinking skills of older adults, but opponents say that some programs do not work.

Today, Lumosity, which proclaims to be a “leader in the science of brain training,” is changing that by presenting new research in Washington, D.C., at the 2014 Society for Neuroscience conference.

The study, “Optimizing Cognitive Task Designs to Improve Learning Rates in a Large Online Population,” analyzed the online game play of more than 99,000 Lumosity participants to determine how changing task parameters affected learning rates.

Also today, researchers from the University of Sydney published a study in PLOS Medicine showing that older adults who engage in computer-based cognitive training can achieve improvements in memory, speed, and spatial recall skills. No improvements in attention or executive function were noted.

Loss of mental or cognitive function, loosely categorized as dementia, is what most people fear about growing old. This fear has fueled the brain-training industry into a billion-dollar business, as the aging population strives to stay young at heart and mind.

The Syndey researchers, who suggest a day of rest between training sessions, have revealed that supervised, group-based training is effective in improving a range of cognitive skills in healthy adults, but that self-directed training done at home has no therapeutic value.

Although the Sydney researchers believe their work is conclusive, more research is clearly needed. University of Sydney Associate Professor Michael Valenzuela said, “Modest gains are to be expected. This is not a magic bullet and we still don’t know if this type of activity can prevent or delay dementia. “