Could New ‘Brain Training’ Program Help Prevent Dementia?

Alan Mozes wrote . . . . . .

In what is being billed as a first, researchers report that healthy seniors who tried a new brain-training program were less likely to develop dementia down the road.

“Everyone with a brain is at risk of dementia,” noted study author Jerri Edwards. But “this is the first treatment ever shown in a clinical trial to make a difference.”

Edwards is a professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at the University of South Florida.

In essence, the program, called BrainHQ, tries to speed thinking by giving seniors the task of distinguishing between a series of ever-changing objects on a computer screen — both in the center and periphery of their vision. Over time, the objects appear more quickly, and look more similar to one another. This makes the task increasingly difficult, with the aim being to boost the individual’s ability to rapidly and accurately identify the objects at hand.

Based on tracking more than 2,800 seniors, the team found that it appears to do just that. Over a 10-year period, the speed-of-thought-processing program lowered dementia risk by nearly 30 percent, the study team said, when compared with seniors who didn’t have such training.

In the study, funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, dementia-free seniors (all aged 65 and up) were divided into four groups.

One group received no brain training of any kind. Over a six-week period, three other groups underwent at least 10 sessions of different types of brain training that lasted 60 to 75 minutes each. Some participants received additional training sessions beyond the initial six weeks.

One group was offered strategic advice on how to improve their verbal memory skills, while a second group was offered strategies on improving their capacity to reason and problem-solve. The third group, however, underwent the computerized speed-of-thought-processing program.

In the end, investigators determined that neither memory training nor reason training appeared to lower long-term dementia risk.

But speed-of-thought-processing training appeared to cause dementia risk to fall by 29 percent over a decade.

What’s more, the more speed training sessions a senior got under his or her belt, the lower their dementia risk was going forward.

In fact, among those seniors who completed 15 or more such sessions, the 10-year risk for dementia was pegged at just 5.9 percent. This compared with a roughly 10 percent risk seen among those who underwent either memory or reason training. Those who underwent no training of any kind had a nearly 11 percent risk.

The program was developed by Karlene Ball of the University of Alabama, Birmingham, and Dan Roenker, of Western Kentucky University.

The study was published Nov. 16 in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions.

“It is important to understand that this intervention is not a game, that it’s not just doing something on the computer,” stressed Edwards. “It’s a very specific training program that shows these benefits.”

Heather Snyder, senior director of medical and scientific operations with the Alzheimer’s Association, said the organization believes that “this is the first time a cognitive training intervention has been shown to protect against cognitive impairment or dementia in a large, randomized, controlled trial.”

But Snyder added that, “these results need replication and confirmation in other populations with the same and similar tools.”

Adam Woods, assistant director of the Center for Cognitive Aging and Memory at the University of Florida, suggested the findings are “extremely exciting,” while also noting that “not all cognitive trainings are created equal.

“Some may interpret this as meaning that all cognitive training has the potential to slow the onset of dementia,” he noted. “However, this study makes a clear case that a specific type of training demonstrated this effect.

“Regardless,” said Woods, “the fact that a computerized cognitive training program for speed of processing has the potential to impact dementia onset is an incredibly important finding that may provide hope to those concerned about developing dementia in the later years of life.”

Source: HealthDay


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Study: Lumosity Brain-Training Didn’t Boost Thinking Skills

Young adults did not appear to sharpen their decision-making skills after using the online brain-training program Lumosity, a new study reports.

A group of study participants aged 18 to 35 who received intense Lumosity training five times a week for 10 weeks did not show any more improvement in memory and reasoning (“cognitive”) skills than people who spent the same amount of time playing online video games, the researchers found.

The Lumosity trainees also did not show any reduction in impulsive or risky decision-making compared to the “control” groups, said study author Caryn Lerman. She is vice dean for strategic initiatives with the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.

“We found, contrary to our expectations, that there were no advantages for commercial cognitive training relative to the other groups in any of the outcomes we examined,” Lerman said. “All groups changed in a relatively equivalent manner.”

The benefits of Lumosity have been hotly debated. Last year, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission fined the program’s creator, Lumos Labs, $2 million for deceptive and unfounded claims that it could help people perform better at work or school, and reduce or delay age-related decline in mental capacity.

Lumos Labs said in a statement that they supported the new study through its research network that provides qualified researchers free access to both the training program and other tools.

However, Lumos Labs pointed out that the study mainly focused on whether Lumosity training would make young adults less likely to engage in risky habits, such as smoking or overeating.

While calling this a “novel approach,” the company added that “it’s a giant leap to suggest this study proves cognitive training is ‘no better than video games at improving brain function.'”

“There remain many open questions in the field — how, why, and in what circumstances cognitive training is efficacious — and so painting in such broad strokes potentially undermines this important, ongoing research area,” the company said.

But the researchers noted that previous studies have shown that people with stronger reasoning abilities tend to make less-impulsive choices. Further, the set of structures in the brain most closely linked to improved decision-making have been associated with the type of brain-training provided by Lumosity, the study authors added.

To see whether brain training could help people make better choices, the research team assigned 64 healthy young adults to follow the Lumosity regimen, which involves 30 minutes of training most days of the week. Another group of 64 people were asked to play video games.

The team focused on young adults because “the brain is more susceptible to change at younger ages,” Lerman said.

Participants underwent two batteries of tests — before and after — to assess their decision-making and reasoning abilities. During the tests, the researchers monitored their brain activity using MRI scans.

The investigators found that the training did not produce any significant differences in brain activity and decision-making between the Lumosity group and the control group.

In addition, Lumosity trainees didn’t do any better on tests of general memory and reasoning skills than the people playing video games, the researchers said. A third group that didn’t receive either Lumosity training or play video games also showed the same level of improvement as the first two groups.

“Considering that even the people who had no training at all showed similar improvement in cognitive performance, that suggested to us that any benefits that we observed on the other measures were really just due to the effects of practicing the assessments, and not due to the training itself,” Lerman said.

Another expert explained it this way.

People who engage in brain-training exercises tend to get better at working the specific sort of puzzles presented by the programs, but those skills don’t necessarily transfer to an overall improvement in a person’s mental capacity, said Walter Boot, an associate professor of psychology with Florida State University.

“As we gain experience with these games, we learn very specific things about how to be good at these games, and that seems to be how learning works,” Boot said. “This study seems to confirm that the learning that takes place in these games is very specific to those games.”

Study lead author Joseph Kable agreed, comparing it to a person training as a runner who becomes no better at bicycling. Even though both activities involve aerobic exercise, the skills do not cross over perfectly.

“Like with physical activity, they do get better at the exact things they practice,” Kable, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, said of Lumosity users. “But they don’t improve on other activities for which they don’t practice.”

The possibility remains that older people with declining mental abilities might receive some benefit from programs like Lumosity, Lerman and Kable added.

“If you work with people with more challenges in their cognitive function, as we see with aging, there may be more room for improvement, so we might see greater effects,” Lerman said.

The findings were published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Source: HealthDay


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