The analysis of a 10-year study found that a digital brain-training program could lower the risk of dementia among healthy individuals by 48 percent. Findings could lead to new preventive measures.
Neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists currently reject evidence that digital or computerized training programs can affect cognitive function. These also include the so-called "brain games."
According to Dr. John King, the National Institute of Aging's social research expert, the recent analysis of the study, which is called Active, could be very promising when they pass peer review and when they are published in a scientific journal.
King is part of the original clinical trial where the latest analysis is based. The study analyzed 2,832 healthy, senior adults and studied how they responded to computerized brain training programs.
Divided into three groups, one group was assigned to take memory improvement exercises; the second group underwent drills for reasoning; and the third group took computer-based training for their speed of processing.
The speed training focused on visual perception. In this exercise, the participants were asked to quickly identify the objects flashed on the screen. Every time the participants get a correct answer, the computer program increases in its level of difficulty.
All the participants underwent trainings for over five weeks. They completed a total of 10 sessions which lasted an hour each in a classroom setting. After one year, some of the participants took four "booster" trainings. After two years, these same participants received four more additional trainings.
The researchers then evaluated the functional and cognitive changes immediately after the original trainings. Further measurements followed on the first, second, third and fifth anniversary after the original sessions. Ten years after the very first trainings, the researchers measured the changes again to see if the sessions have an effect on the participants' daily task performance.
The findings of the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) study were published in 2014 wherein the researchers found "modest" benefits stemming from the sessions among the participants who took reasoning and speed trainings. However, the same benefits were not found in the group who took the memory trainings.
Dr. Jerri Edwards from the University of South Florida conducted the new analysis and found that the speed training group showed a 33 percent reduced dementia risk when compared with the control group. Edwards' analysis did not find the same benefit among the reasoning and memory groups.
The new analysis also found that the participants who had 11 or more sessions in speed training had 48 percent reduced dementia risk in the span of the 10-year study.
"[This is] the first time a cognitive training intervention has been shown to protect against cognitive impairment or dementia in a large, randomized, controlled trial," said Edwards.
The preliminary findings were presented during the Alzheimer's Association International Conference that is being held in Toronto, Canada from July 22 to 28. The analysis finds that any preventive initiative type can help ward off the development of the neurodegenerative disease among healthy individuals.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded the 10-year study. The National Institute of Aging is part of the NIH.