August 15, 2016
Helen Dennis

Last week, M.J. wrote that she was frustrated with her physical limitations to exercise, feeling doomed both physically and mentally.

She asks, “Is it all downhill?”

We previously addressed the physical part of her question. This week, we’ll focus on the mental aspect.

Keeping our memories sharp and our reasoning skills at their optimum has been addressed by well-marketed and big business enterprises — the brain game industry. The number of games available is astounding. Writer Amber Hensley identifies online “100 awesome anti-aging brain games” and divides them into categories such as online brain sharpeners; puzzles and word games; video games; Wii games; board, card and strategy games; classic games online and more. Many claim to mitigate risks of dementia.

Henry Mahncke, CEO of Posit Science, says that there is only one problem with the brain games — the lack of sound scientific evidence. That’s about to change.

At the recent Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Toronto, Jerri Edwards, an associate professor in the School of Aging Studies at the University of South Florida, announced a breakthrough study that reduces the risk of dementia with compelling scientific evidence.

The study was conducted over a 10-year period with 2,802 healthy adults living in the community, age 65 and older. The bottom line: An exercise was found to cut the risk of dementia by 48 percent in people asked to train 14 hours.

Participants were randomized into a control group and to one of three cognitive training programs: A memory program and reasoning program both taught by an instructor or a computerized speed-training program. All but the control group received a total of 10 hours of training (two hours a week for five weeks) at the beginning of the 10-year period. A subset of participants was asked to complete additional training after 11 and 35 months. All participants were measured on a battery of assessments after years one, two, three, five and 10.

Researchers found that different types of training had different results. The memory and reasoning training taught by an instructor did not show a significant effect. The computerized speed-training group had a 33 percent risk reduction of dementia. Those who trained an additional four hours from this group had a 48 percent risk reduction.

This scientific study is considered the first to demonstrate that a behavioral intervention, i.e. training, can reduce the incidence of dementia.

A note on speed training — it is designed to improve the speed and accuracy of something called the processing of visual information, the visual area that a person takes in to make a quick decision without moving one’s head or eyes. This processing speed decreases with age and is considered a key index of brain health. It has been compared to the diagnostic value of blood pressure measurements for cardiovascular health.

Mahncke calls this research one of “a gold standard, letting us know there is something you can do before a brain catastrophe happens.” He added that “people often believe that the brain is like a machine and wears out over time. Not true. The brain constantly adapts and reorganizes.”

The concern about dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease, is well founded. We are an aging society, and age is a risk factor. Alzheimer’s disease is progressive with no known cause or cure and is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. In 1998, it was the 12th leading cause.

The next step for Posit Science is to submit the data to the Food and Drug Administration for a medical device application. The brain exercise has been exclusively licensed to Posit Science Corp. and is available as the Double Decision Maker exercise in its training program.

M.J., hopefully the information presented will help modify your perspective about the downhill part of aging. The fact we have a science-backed tool that will increase our chances to avoid dementia is truly a breakthrough event. Wishing you good health and engagement in activities you enjoy — both physical and mental.