Staff Reporter
Forbes
July 20, 2006

Scientists this week announced new findings that indicate it may be possible to arrest or even reverse memory decline in Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), a pre-dementia condition that commonly leads to Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco and the University of California at Davis presented study results at the 10th International Conference on Alzheimer’s disease in Madrid, the largest gathering of Alzheimer’s researchers in the world. The study shows that a novel series of computer based exercises may improve memory in MCI patients.

As many as 8 million Americans have MCI. The condition is associated with memory loss and cognitive deficits. Each year, more than a million MCI patients develop dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

For the controlled study, the scientists randomly assigned 45 people with MCI to either perform the brain fitness exercises or to engage in other computer-based tasks such as video games. The subjects performed the activity 90-100 minutes a day, 5 days a week, for an average of 6 weeks. They were given standardized cognitive assessments before and after the study. The group using the Brain Fitness Program showed evidence for gains in memory. What’s more, gains in visual memory — remembering tasks you are shown, like how to use a remote control — were statistically significant. The patients in the control group did not show improvements in memory. They showed the same losses expected in MCI patients.

The scientists also presented findings from brain scans of 15 MCI patients enrolled in the study. The scans were taken before and after the study, using PET (Positive Emission Tomography) technology. They show a decline in brain activity in patients who did not use the Brain Fitness Program, while brain activity remained steady in those who did.

“The results of these human experiments provide some indication that cognitive function might be improved with appropriate stimulation,” said William Jagust, MD, a neuroscientist at the University of California at Berkeley and at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a co-author of the study. “Further studies with larger sample sizes are needed to fully confirm these data.”

In fact, the Alzheimer’s Association is now funding another study on the Brain Fitness Program and memory. That study will be headed by Deborah Barnes, PhD, MPH and by Kristine Yaffe, MD, both at the University of California at San Francisco.

The Brain Fitness Program was developed by scientists at Posit Science Corporation (www.PositScience.com) in San Francisco. It is designed to improve the accuracy and speed with which the brain processes information and to exercise the systems in the brain that control learning and memory. The program has been proven to improve memory significantly in healthy, older populations.