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 statistically significant gains in memory and processing speed if they do the right kind of scientifically designed cognitive exercises.

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. This finding isn’t unusual; people are expected to improve at exercises they were taught to do and practiced. The vast majority of other studies that have examined cognitive fitness 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 reported significant improvements in their everyday lives because of the BrainHQ exercises. These benefits ranged from remembering a shopping list without having to write it down; to hearing conversations in noisy restaurants more clearly; to being more independent and feeling more self-confident; to finding words more easily and having improved self-esteem in general.

Statistically Significant Gains

IMPACT study participants who used the BrainHQ exercises experienced statistically significant gains in several areas. Following are just a few:

  • Participants who used the BrainHQ exercises increased their auditory processing speed by 131%.
  • On average, people who used the BrainHQ exercises experienced an improvement in memory equivalent to approximately 10 years. They also made statistically significant gains (performed much better) in four standard memory tests used in the study.
  • Three out of four people who used the BrainHQ exercises self-reported positive changes in their everyday lives. People didn’t just test better, they noticed changes in their daily lives as well—perhaps the most meaningful result of all.

These results were each statistically significant compared to the active control group, which was a computer-based program of active learning where people learned from educational DVDs and took quizzes to test their knowledge. These results show that there is an important difference between the scientifically structured cognitive training in BrainHQ exercises and just keeping your brain busy with cognitive stimulation.

Evidence for Cognitive Change

The IMPACT study proves that cognitive decline is not inevitable and irreversible. Adults—regardless of their education level, IQ, or other demographic factors—can improve their cognitive abilities. Just as every adult can benefit from physical exercise, every adult can benefit from the right kind of cognitive fitness as well.

Using BrainHQ exercises can effectively strengthen and build memory and processing speed. These improvements help people perform better at work, connect better with others, enjoy their favorite activities more, and keep up with daily tasks efficiently.

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 control group that watched educational DVDs. This helps ensure that the benefits seen in the cognitive training group are not just due to getting practice on the cognitive test.
  • 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.

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 used the first Posit Science cognitive training program, then called The Brain Fitness Program, which had six exercises. Each of those exercises is part of BrainHQ, including Sound Sweeps (previously called High or Low?), Fine Tuning (previously called Tell Us Apart), Memory Grid (previously called Match It!), Syllable Stacks (previously called Sound Replay), To-do List Training (previously called Listen and Do), and In the Know (previously called Story Teller).