July 25, 2016
Stephen Feller

People who used a computerized cognitive brain training program were more than one-third less likely to develop dementia or cognitive decline.
Methods of holding off the development of Alzheimer’s disease and other disorders involving dementia and cognitive decline are slowly being identified, with mental and physical activity claiming roles in most of them.

Researchers at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on July 24 presented a 10-year study showing a challenging computer program can help significantly lower the risk for cognitive decline or dementia, in some cases reducing the risk by as much as half.

The results presented at the conference are the latest culled from follow-up research in the long-term Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly study, which sought to find the most effective of three types of cognitive intervention, including a difficult video game.

Previous research has suggested commercially available video games may not improve cognitive performance, let alone prevent decline, but the longer term research presented this week suggested at least one game does have an effect, as do other cognitive interventions to a lesser effect.

“The Alzheimer’s Association believes there is sufficiently strong evidence to conclude that lifelong learning and certain types of cognitive training may reduce the risk of cognitive decline,” Dr. Maria Carrillo, chief science officer for the Alzheimer’s Association, said in a press release. “These new 10-year findings are evidence that it may hold true for dementia as well as cognitive decline.”

For the new study, researchers recruited 2,832 older adults with an average age of 73.6 who were randomized to participate in one of four cognitive training groups, receiving either classroom-based memory or reasoning training, computerized speed-of-processing training or no training at all.

Based on assessments of cognitive and functional ability before and after 10 training sessions, the participants were followed up with at 1, 2, 3, 5 and 10 years after completion of the training, with some participants offered additional training before assessments 1 and 3 years after the study had completed.

Among participants in the computerized group, risk for cognitive decline or dementia declined by 33 percent, with those who said yes to booster sessions showed as much as a 48-percent reduction in developing the conditions.

Although fewer patients developed cognitive decline or dementia during the decade following the baseline study, researchers call the difference classroom-based training made not significant.

The speed-of-processing computer program trains users on a task to increase speed and accuracy of visual attention by identifying an object in the center of the screen at the same time as identifying one in the periphery. The program becomes increasingly difficult as users get answers correct, increasing ability over time.

“We believe this is the first time a cognitive training intervention has been shown to protect against cognitive impairment or dementia in a large, randomized, controlled trial,” said Dr. Jerry Edwards, an associate professor at the University of South Florida and first author of the scientific abstract. “Next, we’d like to get a better grasp on what exactly is the right amount of cognitive training to get the optimal benefits.”