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Study suggests brain training games may prevent dementia


We can all be a bit forgetful sometimes, but when it becomes a life concerning issue, like dementia, there isn’t much that can be done in terms of treatment. However, new research suggests there may be action that can be taken in terms of prevention.

This week on “Take Care,” science and medical journalist Dan Hurley tells us how brain training games may lead to a significant reduction in risk for dementia. Hurley wrote the article, “Could Brain Training Prevent Dementia?” for the New Yorker on the study, and is the author of the book, “Smarter: The New Science of Building Brain Power.”

The study is called ACTIVE, which stands for Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly. It was undertaken 10 years ago, says Hurley, and has been able to link brain training and dementia. Supported by the National Institutes of Health, the study had a total of 3,000 participants, in which brain training versus no brain training was tested. The participants were checked in after three, five, and 10 years to see the differences, says Hurley.

Since testing if brain games prevent dementia is something that has to develop over a long period of time, this study is the first to show any real evidence that they do. However, there have been previous studies to prove brain training can improve other things.

“They had previously shown that one kind called useful field of view, or speed of processing, improved people’s ability to drive—this was older American people, people in their 70s,” Hurley said. “They had half the rate of accidents and they were significantly more likely to still have a license.”

The new findings from the ACTIVE study also tested speed of processing and found that, similar to driving, participants who trained in this area were half as likely to develop dementia, says Hurley.

“That’s a pretty historic finding for any treatment for dementia because there is no drug, there’s no treatment that someone can just do that has previously been shown in any randomized trial to reduce the incidence of dementia,” Hurley said. “It’s a really big deal.”

Now you may think to achieve this participants had to constantly be playing brain training games, but they didn’t. Hurley says the people who had the most benefit were first offered 10 hours of training, which was done two hours a week for five weeks. They were then offered four more hours of training a couple years later.

“Despite that very modest commitment of time and effort, they had a 48 percent reduction in risk for developing dementia,” Hurley said.

Hurley describes the game participants played as peculiar. He says to imagine you’re sitting in front of a computer screen and something quickly reveals itself and you have to decide whether it’s a car or a truck. Then while that’s happening, something else appears on the screen in your peripheral view and you have to decide where on the screen it appeared.

“It seems to work at some sort of fundamental level that keeps your brain fitter for years,” Hurley said.

This test is also classified under useful field of view, like the one that improved driving. Since driving is incorporated in everyday life, it may be why only such a short amount of brain training was required to produce such a decreased risk of dementia.

Hurley says a replica of the game used in the study is offered by Brain HQ called “Double Decision.” But despite the data collected from the ACTIVE study, Hurley says there are still skeptics about whether or not brain training could really have this effect, and a political science war on the topic has been ignited.

“It shows this stunning result that’s almost too good to believe, yet the science says it’s there.”