April 12, 2022

SAN FRANCISCO — A new study suggests that cognitive decline is neither inevitable, nor irreversible — even for people at greatest risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers at Stanford University and the University of Rochester found that visual speed and attention exercises in the BrainHQ app from Posit Science drove not only gains in standard neuropsychological measures of speed, attention and memory, but also in physical measures of brain connectivity.

The study, which was released as a preprint from the July 2022 issue of the journal Neuroimage, was conducted among patients with amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment (aMCI).

Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is a medical classification for people with age-related declines in thinking skills that are significantly greater than average, but which are not yet classified as dementia. One prior study indicated that 65% of people with MCI progressed to dementia within three years. Amnestic MCI is a sub-classification of people with MCI who show significant memory impairment, and who are among those at highest risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

The study enrolled 84 patients with aMCI, randomized into an intervention group (using BrainHQ exercises) and an active control group (using brain games, such as sudoku, solitaire and word games). Each group was asked to engage in their activity four times a week, for an hour a session, for six weeks.
The intervention group using BrainHQ showed significant improvement in standard measures of speed, attention, and working memory, as compared to the control. Neither group showed significant gains in a measure of episodic memory.

The researchers wanted to investigate the neural mechanisms underlying the improvements in cognitive function — and used an advanced form of brain imaging, that allowed them to measure the strength of connections between different neural networks in the brain. In the brain training group, they found that changes in cross-network connectivity predicted changes in generalized cognitive abilities — suggesting that one way that brain training improves cognitive function is by improving how disparate brain networks communicate with each other.

“It was not long ago that the consensus was there’s little to be done for patients with MCI,” said Dr. Henry Mahncke, CEO of Posit Science. “But fortunately, that consensus is changing.” Dr. Mahncke cited guidelines issued in 2017 by the American Academy of Neurology, which noted that there was no FDA-approved medicine for MCI, and recommended that neurologists provide evidence-based cognitive training. These new results extend the idea that the brain can be rewired — even in people at risk for dementia.

“This is the twentieth study report indicating these exercises can drive improvements in brain health in people with pre-dementia conditions,” Dr. Mahncke added. “Almost half of those studies have published since 2017. We look forward to working with researchers, grant-makers, and regulators in getting this science to people it could help.”

More than 100 published studies of the exercises in BrainHQ have shown benefits, including gains in standard measures of cognition (attention, speed, memory, executive function, social cognition), in standard measures of quality of life (mood, confidence and control, managing stress, health-related quality of life) and in real world activities (gait, balance, driving, everyday cognition, maintaining independence). BrainHQ is now offered, without charge, as a benefit by leading national and 5-star Medicare Advantage plans and by hundreds of clinics, libraries, and communities. Consumers can also try BrainHQ for free at https://dev-bhq.pantheonsite.io.