Keeping Alzheimer's at bay

Computer 'brain games' cut dementia risk: Study

CHICAGO • A computerised brain training programme has been found to cut the risk of dementia among healthy people by 48 per cent, United States researchers said in reporting an analysis of the results of a 10-year study.

The preliminary findings, presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Toronto on Sunday, are the first to show that any kind of intervention could delay the development of dementia in normal, healthy adults.

To date, cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists have largely rejected evidence that computer-based, cognitive-training software or "brain games" have any effect on cognitive function.

The new findings would be quite promising if they hold up through peer review and publication in a scientific journal, said Dr John King, an expert in social research at the National Institute of Ageing.

The institute is part of the National Institutes of Health, which funded the study.

Dr King worked on the original clinical trial on which the new analysis is based.

The original study, known as Active, examined the effects of cognitive training programmes on 2,785 healthy older adults.

Participants were divided into three groups. One got training for memory improvement, one for reasoning and one with computerised training in speed-of-processing.

Results of that study, published in 2014, found modest benefits in the reasoning and speed-of-processing groups, but not memory.

The brain training exercises are now incorporated in US-based programme provider Posit Science's training system.

The new analysis was by Dr Jerri Edwards of the University of South Florida, who did a secondary analysis of the 10-year data, looking at the time it took individuals to develop dementia.

She found that people who completed 11 or more speed training sessions were at 48 per cent less risk for developing dementia over the 10 years of the study.

But Dr King said it was unclear whether speed training would help people who are already at risk for dementia.

"It's a promising result from an interesting data set," he said.

"I do think we will know more after the paper is reviewed."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2016, with the headline 'Computer 'brain games' cut dementia risk: Study '. Print Edition | Subscribe