August 22, 2016
CBS Pittsburgh
Dr. Maria Simbra

Would you play video  games to ward off Alzheimer’s disease?

A new study finds video  games might just be the key to preventing dementia.

In the recent 10-year study of nearly 3,000 people ages 65 to 94, computer exercises to process visual information quickly beat out memory  or reasoning exercises in reducing the risk of dementia.

“It is an atypical sample of the population who is usually willing to participate in these kinds of studies. People who are healthier, more educated, and more willing to play on the computer ,” says Dr. Carol Schramke, a neuropsychologist at Allegheny General Hospital.

This was a multi-center study. Participants were randomly assigned to the computer exercises, memory and reasoning training with an instructor, or just life as usual.

The group getting computerized speed training with 10 one-hour sessions over five weeks had a 33 percent lower risk of dementia 10 years later. Those getting booster sessions a year later and three years later had a 48 percent lower risk.

“If, just by chance, one of the groups was more educated, or if by chance, one of the groups was more physically active , or if one of the groups ate a healthier diet, that also can have an impact on whether people go on to develop dementia,” said Schramke.

“Little tiny differences will be statistically significant, but possibly, not all that practically significant,” she added.

The actual exercises used in the research are not yet available, and the study has not yet been published, only presented at a recent international Alzheimer’s conference.

But the drills are similar to a game called “Double Decision.”

The idea is to identify an object at the center of the screen, and at the same time, identify an object at the edges. As you get the items right, the game speeds up, targets become harder to tell apart, and distracting objects are presented.

The company  that owns “Double Decision” has acquired the new games under development.

This company, called Posit Science, plans to apply for a medical device-application with the Food and Drug Administration.

Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission settled a deceptive advertising lawsuit against the company  that makes “Lumosity” brain games, charging it with making deceptive brain health ads.

“It is just really hard to believe that just ten hours can have that big of an effect,” Schramke said. “I will remain skeptical, but I will continue to tell my patients if you like doing these things, if it’s not a financial burden, if it doesn’t cost  more than the little games that you play on your phone, then go for it.”