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A Specific Type of Brain Training Lowers Dementia Risk by Up to 45%

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It takes a lot to get the goat of scientists. Yet dozens became so exasperated by vendors claiming their online games can improve memory and prevent Alzheimer's, they collectively signed a statement rejecting all such notions. That was three years ago, when the evidence on this subject was limited. Now things have changed. Impressive findings from a new study might just persuade these scientists to have a change of heart.

Speed Processing Reduces Dementia Risk

The study, funded by the National Institutes for Health, involved more than 2,800 cognitively healthy men and women whose average age was 73. The participants resided in six locations across the US. They were divided into four groups. People in the first bunch were given classroom instruction on strategies to improve memory. Those in the second were shown how to improve reasoning ability. The third group received brain training using computers to increase their speed and accuracy of visual processing. The fourth acted as a control. They received no training. Participants in the first three groups were given ten training sessions lasting 1 to 1¼ hours over a period of six weeks. Some received up to four follow-up sessions of booster training after one year and three years. Cognitive and functional tests were carried out at the outset of the study, after six weeks, and then again at one, two, three, five and ten years. The researchers found no significant difference between the memory and reasoning groups (the first two groups) compared to the controls. But those engaged in speed of processing training saw a 29% reduced risk of dementia. Those who took part in additional visual training saw even more improvements, while the ones who completed the most booster sessions had a 45% lower risk of dementia compared to controls. They suffered a dementia rate of only 5.9% compared to 10.8%.

Get Started Now – Here’s Why

This was the first, large, randomized controlled trial to demonstrate an intervention of this kind can lower dementia risk in older adults. For those interested in following this approach, lead author Dr. Jerri Edwards from the University of South Florida explains that this is a preventative method. The training must be carried out before dementia sets in. Although the exercises look similar to computer games, they are "not necessarily fun and there's no goal to win" she said. The game used in the study -- Double Decision -- involves identifying objects on the screen and remaining focused on them while there are distracting images in the periphery. It tests how accurately and quickly details can be seen. The exercises get more difficult over time, challenging the brain to increase its speed of processing and improve the extent and reliability of a wider field of view. So what's so special about visual processing? The study authors could not answer why this approach to brain training is better than others. They hinted at improvement in brain reserve but the mechanisms still need exploring. Summing up, Dr. Edwards said, "This study highlights that not all cognitive training is the same. Plasticity-based, computerized, speed of processing training has differentiated itself based both on the data and on the neuropsychological model from which it was developed."

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