‘Brain training’ games linked to lower risk of dementia

14 January 2016 - by Hannah Mottishaw

Brain training

Playing computer games that challenge reasoning and memory skills could have significant benefits for older people in their day to day lives, a new study has found.

Adding weight to previous research, which had uncovered the potential for ‘brain training’ in improving memory, the new study by King’s College London showed that an online brain training package could not only improve memory and reasoning skills, but also how well older people carry out everyday tasks, such as navigating public transport, shopping, cooking and managing their money.

The study

The latest trial, funded by Alzheimer’s Society, is the largest randomised control trial (the crème de la crème of scientific research) on brain training to date.

Almost 7,000 adults aged 50 or above were asked to play the game, which comprised of three reasoning tasks and three problem-solving tasks, for ten minutes at a time, as often as they wished.

Before starting the study and again after six weeks, three months and six months, the participants were assessed through a series of cognitive tests. Those who were over 60 were also assessed on a test of daily living, which included using the telephone and doing the shopping.

After six months, the brain training package led to noteworthy improvements in scores on the test of daily living, as well as significant improvement in reasoning and verbal learning in those over 50, in comparison to those who didn’t play the games.

The takeaway message

This research adds to the belief amongst many experts that engaging in cognitively stimulating activities, such as Sudoku, crosswords and puzzles, throughout life can lower your risk of developing dementia.

These findings could offer an effective, easily accessible intervention to help stave off cognitive decline in later life.

Dr Anne Corbett from the Wolfson Centre for Age-Related Diseases at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London, said, “The impact of a brain training package such as this one could be extremely significant for older adults who are looking for a way to proactively maintain their cognitive health as they age. The online package could be accessible to large numbers of people, which could also have considerable benefits for public health across the UK.

“Our research adds to growing evidence that lifestyle interventions may provide a more realistic opportunity to maintain cognitive function, and potentially reduce the risk of cognitive decline later in life, particularly in the absence of any drug treatments to prevent dementia.”

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