San Francisco, CA — At this week’s global gathering of experts in aging, Dr. Henry Mahncke addressed the emerging consensus on the importance of brain training, and called for every community to offer programs to help delay cognitive aging. Dr. Mahncke is noted for his involvement in the design of scores of brain training studies, and is the CEO of Posit Science, the maker of BrainHQ online brain training exercises and assessments.
Dr. Mahncke’s talk entitled “The Science of Brain Plasticity and Dementia Prevention” was given at the 21st Annual World Congress of the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics.
Dr. Mahncke noted that findings last month by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) that cognitive training is one of the few types of interventions that may slow cognitive aging has caused a major reappraisal of the role of brain training – a field which had been tarnished by the actions of Lumosity and other companies that led to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforcement actions and fines in recent years.
Dr. Mahncke’s company has anchored the other end of the spectrum in the emerging marketplace, with more than 100 peer-reviewed articles showing benefits, in a field where most products are backed by zero peer-reviewed studies.
“Our founder, and my mentor, Dr. Mike Merzenich spearheaded thirty years of research that led to the discovery of lifelong brain plasticity and our ongoing pioneering work in the development of plasticity-based brain exercises,” Dr. Mahncke said. “We started the company after many years and thousands of academic experiments –helping rats and other animals get smarter and age better – to unleash the power of brain plasticity to actually help humans.”
The recent NASEM report focused in particular on results shown in the ACTIVE Study, which followed more than 2800 older adults for ten years, from average age 74 to 84. ACTIVE showed that a relatively small amount (10-18 hours) of the right kind of cognitive training can make a significant difference. In particular, ACTIVE’s results from plasticity-based speed of processing training had far-reaching effects on aging that showed persistence over time, including: faster speed of processing; greater ability to maintain independent living; greater feelings of confidence and control; lower risk of depressive symptoms; better health-related quality of life; and lower predicted medical expenses.
Dr. Mahncke noted that his company acquired the speed of processing technology used in ACTIVE ten years ago, because it was an ideal complement as a visual exercise to the company’s auditory exercises – which had been shown effective in a number of studies in improving auditory processing speed, attention and memory.
“We worked closely with the inventors from ACTIVE to move the exercise from floppy disks, to CD-ROM, and then to the web, to make sure we maintained its efficacy,” Dr. Mahncke said. “Independent university-based researchers have tested the newer versions – running studies and publishing papers to document its continued effectiveness, and an Iowa-based study of nearly 700 older adults even tested the relative effectiveness of administering the training in classes or on your own at home, and found no significant difference.”
“Not all brain training is the same,” Dr. Mahncke observed. “This is nothing like traditional cognitive training, based on drills or compensatory strategies. With plasticity-based training, we have people progressively train (using smart algorithms that continuously personalize the exercises) on the most elemental parts of cognition – in a sense, decomposing and re-building each system, by driving you to continuously re-set your personal best.”
“It’s gratifying to see this work finally being acknowledged,” Dr. Mahncke concluded. “But we know that science changes very slowly, especially when old paradigms are being overturned. We are encouraging experts to focus on the extremely positive results of plasticity-based training, as distinguished from the rest of cognitive training, where results are mixed or negative. It’s time for every library, YMCA, community center and senior center to take up the recommendations of NASEM and offer evidence-based programs to help delay cognitive aging.”
More than 150 peer-reviewed papers have shown that the exercises and assessments in BrainHQ deliver a wide range of benefits from a relatively small amount of training (10 to 40 hours in most studies), including improvements in standard measures of cognition (e.g., speed, attention, memory and executive function), which have been shown to generalize to quality of life (e.g., mood, confidence, functional independence, self-rated health) and to real world activities (e.g., gait, balance, driving and everyday cognition).