Speed-of-processing cognitive training significantly cuts dementia risk in seniors: study

Research findings published in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions demonstrated that healthy seniors who tried the brain-training programme BrainHQ, which is designed to test how fast a person responds to visual stimuli, were significantly less likely to develop dementia than untreated controls after 10 years of follow-up. Study author Jerri Edwards noted "this is the first treatment ever shown in a clinical trial to make a difference" in terms of lowering dementia risk, adding "it is important to understand that this intervention is not a game…It's a very specific training programme that shows these benefits." 

The randomised ACTIVE study involved 2802 initially healthy adults aged 65 years and older who either received no brain training of any kind, or were assigned to one of three cognitive training programmes consisting of up to 10 sessions over approximately six weeks, with some participants given additional "booster" sessions beyond that. Specifically, one group was offered instruction on memory strategies, while the second received strategies on improving their reasoning and problem-solving abilities. The third intervention arm underwent speed-of-processing training with the BrainHQ platform, which focused on computerised visual-perceptual exercises designed to increase the amount and complexity of information quickly processed. Outcomes were examined immediately after the intervention and at various intervals over a 10-year period. 

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The authors noted that dementia was defined using a combination of interview- and performance-based methods, with 260 cases identified during the follow-up. Results showed that speed-of-processing training cut the risk of dementia by 29 percent versus the untreated control group, whereas there was no significant difference in incidence of dementia for either the memory or the reasoning training groups, versus controls, at the end of 10 years. The research team also found that each additional speed training session was linked to a 10-percent lower hazard for dementia. 

Doug Brown, director of research at the Alzheimer's Society, described the study findings as "positive" given that several types of training were compared over a decade, but he cautioned that the conclusions about dementia in patients were based on self-reports from patients or their families. "This study hints that a particular type of brain training may help people to ward off dementia, but due to limitations of the research, we can't confidently conclude this," commented Brown. 

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