A newly published study is the first to show that computerized brain-training can reduce the risk of dementia among older adults.
Researchers from the University of South Florida say the findings from a 10-year study suggests a particular type of computerized brain training called “speed of processing training” or, “useful field of view training,” reduced the risk of dementia by nearly 30 percent.
A paper describing the study, “Speed of Processing Training Results in Lower Risk of Dementia, ” appears in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions.
“Speed of processing training resulted in decreased risk of dementia across the 10-year period of, on average, 29 percent as compared to the control,” said lead author Jerri Edwards, Ph.D., University of South Florida. “When we examined the dose-response, we found that those who trained more received more protective benefit.”
The ACTIVE Study enrolled 2,802 healthy older adults at six sites around the United States and followed them for 10 years (as they aged from an average of 74 to 84). Participants were randomized into a control group or one of three intervention arms using different types of cognitive training:
- 1) a group receiving instruction on memory strategies;
2) a group receiving instruction on reasoning strategies;
3) a group receiving individualized computerized speed of processing training.
Participants in the cognitive training groups were offered 10 initial sessions of training (60-75 minutes per session) which was conducted over the first six weeks of the study.
All participants were assessed on a number of cognitive and functional measures at the beginning of the study, after the first six weeks, and at one, two, three, five, and 10 years. Subsets of each intervention group also received four additional “booster” training sessions in months 11 and 35 of the study.
Researchers found no significant difference in risk of dementia for the strategy-based memory or reasoning training groups, as compared to the control group. However, as compared to the control group, the computerized speed training group showed significantly less risk of dementia — averaging a 29 percent risk reduction.
When reviewing the impact of each computerized speed training session completed, researchers found those who completed more sessions had lower risk.
Among those who completed 15 or more sessions across all three intervention groups, the risk of dementia for the computerized speed training group was lowest at 5.9 percent, as compared to 9.7 percent and 10.1 percent for the memory and reasoning groups, respectively. The control group, which did not engage in any training, had a dementia incidence rate of 10.8 percent.
In the computerized speed training group, participants were trained on a highly specific task designed to improve the speed and accuracy of visual attention, including both divided and selective attention exercises.
To perform the divided attention training task, a user identified an object (i.e., car or truck) at the center of gaze while at the same time locating a target in the periphery (i.e., car). As the user got the answers correct, the speed of presentation becomes progressively briefer, while the targets become more similar. In the more difficult training tasks, the target in the periphery is obscured by distracting objects, engaging selective attention.
Investigators note that the benefits of this form of training exercise has been documented in several previous studies. There is substantial prior scientific literature on this training exercise, which is referred to as “speed of processing training”, “useful field of view training”, or “UFOV training.”
The paper notes that this particular type of computerized brain training has previously been shown effective across more than 18 clinical trials in older adults on standard measures of cognitive abilities (e.g., speed of processing and attention) and functional abilities (e.g., maintaining the ability to live independently, depressive symptoms, feelings of control, and health-related quality of life), as well as in real world activities (e.g., driving safety, balance, and gait).
“We need to further delineate what makes some computerized cognitive training effective, while other types are not,” said Dr. Edwards.
“We also need to investigate what is the appropriate amount of training to get the best results. The timing of intervention is also important. Existing data indicate speed training is effective among older adults with and without mild cognitive impairment, but it is important to understand this is preventative to lower risk of dementia and is not a treatment for dementia.
Our ongoing research is examining this intervention among persons with Parkinson’s disease as well as other types of cognitive interventions.”