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Brain Games and Cognitive Training May Prevent Dementia

Aside from healthy living habits such as diet and exercise, playing brains games can also help avert the onset of cognitive impairments among older adults.
It is both upsetting and astounding how medical science and research advances. Discoveries of cures for illnesses which hold us hopeful will be considered pointless after a year or two. Then new scientific studies emerge, and our optimism again rises with them.

Alzheimer's' and Cognitive Training

Alzheimer's, a common type of dementia and the sixth-leading cause of death in America still stands today as one of the many illnesses without a cure. Worldwide scientific medical research continues to find treatment, a way to prevent, and delay its onset. Recent efforts include cognitive training and brain games as ways to reverse and prevent dementia.

But in October 2014, seventy-six neuroscientists published a critique of the UCLA research that claims brain games can reverse dementia. The Stanford Center on Longevity and the Berlin Max Planck Institute for Human Development's, a consensus on the Brain Training Industry from the Scientific Community, disproved earlier claims that brain games and cognitive training can reverse and prevent dementia. They stated that it is “devoid of any scientific pieces of evidence” and is “misleading.” The paper further explained that aside from the erroneous claim that brain games reverse and prevent dementia, it is being used exploitatively for commercial purposes. The rejection of the UCLA research even resulted in fining Lumosity, the largest online brain games provider, P2 million dollars by the Federal Trade Commission for misleading claims on dementia treatment.

Then another surprising finding was announced at the recent Alzheimer's Association conference in Toronto. The 10-year trial of some 2,800 seniors of Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE), a government funded research on Alzheimer's', bare their results. Participants under two of the three cognitive training groups reported less difficulty in performing instrumental activities of daily living (IADL) than those who did not. An even more interesting report is that at a 36 to 48 percent decline rate, the number of participants who suffered from dementia ten years later decreased nearly half.

The ACTIVE Trial

ACTIVE, a National Institute of Nursing Research (NINH) and National Institute on Aging (NIA) funded the project, started recruiting healthy 65 years and older participants in March 1998. The 26 percent African-American,76 percent female and 74 percent white composition were randomly designated in 4 groups. There are 3 intervention groups where participants underwent reasoning, memory, and speed-of-processing brain games 60-75 minutes over 5-6 weeks, and 1 control group which did not undergo any of the cognitive training. Special follow-up booster training was given in 39 percent of the participants randomly chosen from the 3 intervention groups.

After 10 years of study and with an average of 10 hours training sessions per participants, results show that participants in 3 intervention groups reported less decline in IADL compared with participants in the control group. There is 12.1 percent of dementia cases in participants who had undergone regular cognitive training sessions and 8.2 percent in participants who took additional booster training, figures which are lower compared to 14 percent of participants who developed dementia in the control group. Memory training though did not improve cognitive capabilities for 10 years.

Although this is a monumental breakthrough in the field of medical science concerning Alzheimer's, Heather Snyder of the Alzheimer's Association pointed out there is still a long way to go in understanding and maximizing the benefits of cognitive training and brain games in delaying or preventing dementia.
The senior director added that cognitive training and brain games could be one of the many ways to prevent dementia. Healthy living habits such as diet and exercise should always be a part of the formula.

Computerized Brain Training

According to Posit Science Michael Merzenich, early research on brain games and dementia has shown cognitive benefits such as older people who have undergone brain games drive longer that those who did not.
Merzenich, a neuroscientist, did not participate in the ACTIVE trial but the computerized brain game used for the speed-of-processing trial, Double Decision, was created by their company, Posit Science.
In the computerized visual game Double Decision, a player has to recognize a vehicle in his front and the road sign Route 66 in the peripheral view. Images flashes at an increased speed as the game progresses and at this point, the player must be quicker in decision-making.
Merzenich explained that there are a growing study and belief in medical science that the brain has plasticity and has the ability to regenerate with training. This is where brain training comes in and as the recent medical study of ACTIVE proved, it did improve cognitive ability in older people.

The Science of Cure

According to Susanne Jaeggi, one of the neuroscientists who signed the consensus statement the disproved brain games as a way to prevent dementia, there aren't any significant study or evidence that brain games can prevent dementia before the ACTIVE trial results. Jonathan King, one of the project scientist who oversaw the ACTIVE trial expressed the same view, pointing out that to date, there aren't any drug or medical apparatus that can prevent dementia and that it could be very interesting if this study were proven accurate and consistent. Although ACTIVE findings have shown promising results, King, Jaeggie, and even Snyder admit that further studies still have to be conducted. According to Snyder, they are still uncertain on why the speed-of-processing training delivered excellent results and that at present, new studies were being conducted to understand how using the brain, in particular, may be more beneficial in improving cognitive functions as a person ages. She further added that they are still trying to figure out the formula that will be beneficial to most people.

According to Jerry Edwards, there is a tendency for scientists to disregard factors when they view brain games as a preventive measure to dementia. As the ACTIVE trial suggests, a particular training may have different effects on different subjects or may have no effect at all.
Jerry Edwards of the University of Florida, together with Karlene Ball, of the University of Alabama and Birmingham, has been studying the effects of speed-of-processing for more than two decades.

Edwards finding pushed the Alzheimer's Association to update their stand on brain games. According to the recent paper published by the organization, there was sufficient proof to conclude that healthy diet, physical and social activities, and cognitive training may lower the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
As medical science struggles its way to find a cure for Alzheimer's, Edwards finding can turn out to be the answer or be someday, proven pointless. That's how science finds answers. But even so, according to King, this study will still draw interest and push more research and studies regarding Alzheimer's.

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