Can you cut your risk of getting dementia by training your brain?

  • A computerized brain-training program cut the risk of dementia on healthy adults by 48%
  • The 10-year old research called ACTIVE analyzed the results of cognitive training among the elderly participants
  • Participants were given 10 to 14 sessions of cognitive training

Results of a recent study suggests that an active lifestyle, healthy social life, and regularly answering puzzles are no longer enough to prevent or even delay the onset of the memory-robbing disease dementia — but playing a computer-based brain-training game can.

A 10-year long government-funded study called ACTIVE —  short for ‘Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly’ —  studied 2,785 healthy adults, with an average starting age of 74. Using a computerized brain training program, the study showed promise of cutting the risk of dementia by 48%.  according to a report by Julie Steenhuysen of Reuters.

In the clinical trials, the participants have been grouped into 3 forms of cognitive training — a classroom-based memory improvement, classroom-based reasoning training, and computerized training in speed-of-processing, plus the control group with no exposure to any of the training.  They were evaluated periodically in the succeeding years.

Participants had 10 one-hour training sessions conducted in a classroom setting over 5 weeks. Some received additional sessions one year after the original training, and another four sessions two years after that.

Statistically, the trial’s four groups experienced sizable differences in  cognitive aging. For those who got the commercially available 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.

“Given that 10 to 14 sessions had these benefits, just think what we could do with more,” said psychologist Jerri Edwards of the University of South Florida and head researcher of the study. “We should be thrilled about this.”

The computerized brain-training exercise used in the research is commercially available as the “Double Decision” game, as per an article published by the Los Angeles Times. The game exercises an individual’s ability to detect, remember and respond to cues that appear and disappear quickly in varying locations on a computer screen.

However, a peer critic of the research, Laurie Ryan who spearheads the Alzheimer’s research at the National Institute on Aging, said: “Maybe they changed their lifestyle in some way, with the training giving them a little cognitive boost that they parlayed into more reading, more travel, more social engagement, and more of other activities that boost “cognitive reserve,” the brain’s cushion against dementia.”