The IHAMS Study
First Study to Show Brain Training Outperforms Crossword Puzzles
A study known as IHAMS pitted a BrainHQ exercise against crossword puzzles. Researchers at the University of Iowa, reporting in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE found that the group using the computerized exercise for just 10 hours had significant gains in cognitive function, while the group doing crosswords on the computer for an equal amount of time had no significant improvements. The study also broke new scientific ground in comparing older and younger users, users on their own at home against users in a supervised setting, and users spending varying amounts of time on the brain fitness exercise.
Study Design and Goals
Led by principal investigator Dr. Fred Wolinsky from the Department of Health Management and Policy at the University of Iowa, the NIH-funded IHAMS was designed to overcome the limitations of the ACTIVE study (whose participants were all age 65 or older) by including younger participants (ages 50 or older). The 681 IHAMS participants were randomized into four groups: the first received 10 hours of onsite brain training with a Posit Science exercise that improves speed of processing and useful field of view (called Double Decision in BrainHQ). The game-like exercise was originally developed with funding from the National Institutes of Health and is now commercially available from the brain fitness company Posit Science.
The researchers separated 681 generally healthy people into four groups. One group was given computerized crossword puzzles, while the other three groups did the brain fitness exercise in different settings – on their own at home, in a supervised setting, or in a supervised setting with four extra hours of “booster” training. Researchers also compared participants aged 50-64 against those aged 65-plus. All groups were assessed prior to the start of the study, at 6 to 8 weeks into the study, and then at 12 months.
The IHAMS study had multiple goals, one of which was to determine if brain training was superior to “standard” activities for brain improvement—in this case, crossword studies. "There has been debate in the scientific community regarding how well brain training works versus other recreational mental activities, such as learning a new language or doing crossword puzzles," said Dr. Fred Wolinsky, John W. Colloton Chair in Health Management and Policy, University of Iowa and lead author of the study. “This study clearly demonstrates that the use of specially constructed exercises for the purpose of brain fitness – such as the speed-of-processing exercises in BrainHQ – not only work, they are far more effective at improving cognitive function than other games or recreational activities."
Superior Results from Posit Science Training
Initial results showed that participants who used the Posit Science exercise showed significantly larger improvements in their cognitive capabilities on several standard neuropsychological tests of cognitive functioning than did the participants who trained on crossword puzzles. The improvements in cognitive function were the same whether the brain exercises were done in the monitored clinical setting or in the participant’s home. These positive changes were observed in as little as 8 weeks, and were sustained over 12 months. The sub-group of participants that received an extra four hours of training posted even greater gains.
The improvements for the younger participants were just as large as those for the older participants, indicating that brain training could and should be started sooner rather than later. There was no difference between the group aged 50-64 and the group aged 65 and older in their ability to make large gains. In addition, the researchers noted that people who did the exercises on their own at home did just as well as people who did them under supervision. This indicates that the training can be widely deployed at low cost and to remote areas.