A Landmark Study with Dramatic Results

With 487 participants, the IMPACT study was the first large-scale clinical trial ever to examine whether a specially designed, widely available cognitive training program significantly improves cognitive abilities in adults. Led by distinguished scientists from Mayo Clinic and the University of Southern California, the IMPACT study proves that people can make significant gains in memory if they do the right kind of scientifically designed cognitive exercises.

Significant Cognitive Change

The study was conducted with six of the auditory exercises in BrainHQ: Sound Sweeps, Fine Tuning, Memory Grid, Syllable Stacks, To-do List Training, and In the Know. Study participants trained in these exercises for a total of approximately 40 hours.

Specifically, the IMPACT study found that:

  • People who used the BrainHQ exercises got better at the exercise tasks. In particular, they showed large improvements in processing speed. This finding isn’t unusual; people are expected to improve at exercises they were taught to do and practiced. Many other studies that have examined cognitive training only report this fact and provide no other results.
  • Improvements “generalized” (or extended) to multiple standard memory tests. “Gold standard” memory assessments—tests that are widely known to and accepted by doctors—showed that the BrainHQ exercises genuinely improve memory overall. This is a significant breakthrough. It indicates that the exercises don’t just teach “memory tricks” or train people to play a computer game really well; they actually generalize to improve brain function more broadly. It’s the difference between giving someone with an injured knee a crutch to compensate for his limitations and actually fixing the knee so the crutch isn’t needed.
  • People who used the BrainHQ exercises reported positive changes in their everyday lives. The IMPACT study participants in the experimental group showed significant improvements on a quantitative questionnaire that measured everyday cognition – things like remembering a shopping list without having to write it down, hearing conversations in noisy restaurants more clearly, being more independent and feeling more self-confident, finding words more easily, and having improved self-esteem in general.

The IMPACT Study Design

  • Multi-center: Three trial sites were involved, which helps show that the results were reliable (and not unique to one place or one scientist) and can be generalized to apply to a broad group of people.
  • Prospective: The study enrolled people and then followed them over time. This is a better study design than looking at what has happened to people in the past, because scientists can measure outcomes (like amount of cognitive training or cognitive function) directly, rather than having to rely on people’s recollection of what happened to them years ago.
  • Randomized: The study randomly assigned people to the cognitive training group or to the control group. This ensures that the benefits seen in a group are only the result of being in that group (doing that cognitive training), and aren’t the result of a scientist putting all the people who share a characteristic (like they have good cognitive function, or they are friends) into one group.
  • Controlled: The cognitive training group was compared to a comparison (active control) group that watched and learned from educational DVDs, taking quizzes each day. This helps ensure that the benefits seen in the cognitive training group are specific to cognitive training, and not just due to general benefits of cognitive stimulation or getting practice on the cognitive tests.
  • Blinded: The scientists measuring cognitive function were not told which group a study participant was assigned to. This helps make sure that those scientists didn’t unconsciously give higher cognitive function scores to people doing the cognitive training program, in the hope the study would be successful. Also, the study participants were not told which program – the cognitive training or the DVD learning – was thought to be more effective. This helps make sure that participants in the DVD learning group didn’t unconsciously make less effort the cognitive tests because they thought there were in a placebo group.

Further Reading

You can read the original IMPACT study here. Remember, the name of the cognitive training program and the individual exercise names were different then than they are now in BrainHQ (see footnote below) but the science is still the same.

IMPACT study paper reference