July 25, 2016
Nichole Tucker

Elderly people who play online games may be less likely to experience various forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Based on new research presented at this year’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Toronto, playing computerized brain games can decrease the risk of dementia by 48 percent.

The research was conducted over a 10-year period and involved 2,785 elderly Americans. The research suggests that performing tasks that challenge a person’s ability to reason and remember greatly benefits elderly people.

Backing the Claim
Although the new findings fascinate most people, scientists find it odd that there is absolutely no published study to support the claim. Scientists at the National Institutes of Health have been rejecting the idea of playing brain games to ward off dementia for years. Now, Dr. John King of the National Aging Institute spoke to NBC News and expressed that a published study from the researchers is needed in order to make the findings legitimate.

Dr. King’s opinion is quite significant considering that the National Institutes of Health is responsible for funding the study on computerized brain games and dementia prevention.

A recent article in the New Yorker even mentions that this is not the first instance in which scientists have made this claim.

In 2014, scientists at Standford University signed a letter officially calling for an end to the claim that playing online brain games could prevent Alzheimer’s disease. According to NBC News, the letter was in response to many brain game makers advertising that their games could help treat and prevent dementia. Such false advertisement recently led the Federal Trade Commission to fine the web-based application Lumosity.

Brain Games Proven to Prevent Dementia
Despite some skepticism, new research is being endorsed by many leaders in Alzheimer’s awareness and dementia research. Recently, Dr. Doug Brown, the director of research and development at Alzheimer’s Association, made a statement to Mirror about the new findings.

“There is widespread excitement about the potential of brain training to protect against dementia as it is such an accessible and enjoyable tool, but so far long term studies have been lacking. This research provides the first evidence that computer-based brain training – in this case which improves the speed that your brain can process information – could reduce the likelihood of developing dementia over a decade. Previous research has shown some promise for brain training in improving memory, although these small-scale studies have been inconclusive.”

It may have taken 10 years, but the research was extensive and notates statistics of both successful and failed brain game interventions for the elderly participants.

The Results
At the beginning of the 10-year trail, the average participant was 73.6 years old. All participants, with the exception of 47, continued the trial to the end. Leaning toward the end of the study, many of the remaining participants had dementia, but the presence of dementia symptoms resulted from the way the trial was conducted.

Some of the participants had no encounter with computerized brain games. Among that group, 14 percent met the criteria for dementia. The researchers consider this number to be significantly low.

Some of the participants were invited back to play additional brain games. Among that group, only 8.2 percent showed signs of dementia. Overall, as previously mentioned, web-based brain games prevented dementia by 48 percent.

More Research Required
The study, with its $23.6 million funding for NIH and its over $10 million from the National Institute of Nursing Research, showed promising results, but leaders in health believe that more research is required. Dr. King explained what a new cohort of the brain games trial should look like.

“We need to see it confirmed and replicated in a larger and more diverse population.”