- Dementia and Alzheimer's disease which have been feared more than cancer affect 1 in 50 people between 65 to 70 years of age
- There are no effective treatments for neuro-degenerative conditions
- The onset of age-related degenerative conditions like dementia and Alzheimer's disease can be delayed by brain training with simple and entertaining online games.
- The findings establish a "spectacular" link between speed-of-processing (visual) training and a reduction in cognitive decline among the elderly.
1 in 50 people between the ages of 65 and 70 years have some form of dementia similar to one in five people over the age of 80. With 76 million baby boomers being at the vulnerable age of developing Alzheimer's and with no effective treatments available to stop its progression, researchers are keen to develop ways to prevent or delay the onset of the disease. The new research suggests that an inexpensive intervention without unwanted side effects might forestall dementia symptoms. The findings are "spectacular" considering the cheap cost and easy distribution of the online games. In people whose work requires complex thinking, delayed onset of Alzheimer's disease is seen.
‘Computerized brain games can cut the risk of dementia by 30 percent in older adults.’
The latest results emerged from a 10-year study the ACTIVE (Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly) study, compared the effects of three forms of brain training in a group comprising of over 2700 adults cognitively healthy seniors, who were recruited in 1998.
The participants were divided into two main groups. The first group that constituted a quarter of the participants served as the control group. They had an average age of 73.4 years at the beginning of the study and got no training at all. The participants of second group were further divided into three groups, and within five weeks each group got training sessions that lasted for 10 hours. One group got a classroom-based course designed to impart strategies for boosting memory; a second got a classroom-based course designed to sharpen participants' reasoning skills. The third group was given computerized (online) training designed to increase the speed at which the brain picks up and processes signals in a person's field of vision. The speed of visual processing is a cognitive function that declines with age, a condition that some neuroscientists attribute to the increasing "noise" in electrical communications between cells and regions in the brain.
The game tests an individual's ability to detect, remember and respond to the stimulus that appears and disappear quickly in different locations on a computer screen. It uses colorful images and challenges players with enhanced difficulty as their proficiency increases. With increased accuracy, the pictures appear more fleetingly and begin to look more similar. This process is known as speed-of-processing training
In the follow up which took place after 10 years, scientists were in touch with all but 47 of the participants. Among those who received the brain-training exercises, the cumulative risk of developing cognitive decline or dementia over 10 years was 33% lower than for participants who got no training at all. About 14% of participants in the control group suffered significant cognitive decline or dementia, compared with 11.4% in the memory training group, 11.7% in the reasoning strategies training group and 10.5% in the speed-of-processing group. Cognitive decline or dementia was less among those in the speed-of-processing group and dementia appeared later in that group.
A smaller group of participants in the computerized-training group got "booster sessions" in the form of at least one class for 11 and 35 months after the initial training. Their risk of cognitive decline or dementia declined even further. Their risk of developing dementia was only 8.2%. Compared to study participants who got no training, those who got more than 10 computerized brain-training sessions were 48% less likely to experience dementia or cognitive decline, over 10 years.
Participants who took part in the other two training routines, which focused on teaching strategies for remembering and for reasoning, were slightly less likely than the control group to suffer cognitive decline or dementia over the study's 10 year period. That was particularly true for those who got 10 sessions to improve reasoning-strategies.
In the ACTIVE trial, the participants' cognitive health was measured at intervals of one, two, three, five and 10 years after the initial training took place, using several standardized batteries. Researchers gauged the participants' mood, confidence and self-rated health, and surveyed their ability to conduct daily tasks like preparing meals, driving and taking care of finances.
The lead author of the study Jerri Edwards, an associate professor in the School of Aging Studies at the University of South Florida, said the ACTIVE study's findings appear to be a milestone. She said "the first time a cognitive training intervention has been shown to protect against cognitive impairment or dementia in a large, randomized, controlled trial." She has been investigating speed-of-processing for more than twenty years along with the co-researcher, Karlene Ball, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Jerri Edwards said that the suggestion that continued brain training can provide older people further protection against dementia.She added "Next we'd like to get a better grasp on what exactly is the right amount of cognitive training to get the optimal benefits."
Specialized brain training could be used as a potentially powerful strategy to prevent Alzheimer's disease and other associated conditions. Though the results were promising, the researchers still believe that more exploration of the field is required.
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