Photo By mavo via Shutterstock
Being mentally active is one recommendation for seniors to avoid mental diseases such as Alzheimer's and Dementia.In the past, solving crossword puzzles and surfing the internet had been recommended by geriatric experts to prevent the buildup of plaques in the brain.
A new study by the US National Institutes of Health suggested specific computer training exercises for older adults to test how fast they respond to visual stimuli.The research said that by playing video games, the elderly could decrease the risk of developing dementia by 29 percent, Sunday Times reported.
In the randomized clinical trial, over 2,800 older people were enrolled in the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly study.The researchers used Double Decision, a patented program by Posit Science available on BrainHQ.com.It is a specific brain training exercise that tests a person's ability to look at an object in the screen's center and click on an object that pops up in the periphery.
The use of the speed exercises is a preventive method that people should begin even if they are already middle age, Jerri Edwards, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at the University of South Florida, said.It would be too late to begin speed exercises if the seniors are already getting treatment for dementia, Aging Edge noted.
The exercises move faster and become more difficult as the user improves.Double Decision exercises the brain's plasticity, or the ability to change.It also tests the skills of perception, decision-making, thinking, and remembering of the seniors whose average age was 74.
Goal is not to win
Edwards said that the computerized brain-training exercises appear similar to video or computer games.However, she clarified it is not games at all. "They're not necessarily fun and there's no goal to win.We are studying their mental quickness," she said.
The participants were divided at random into four groups.Members of group 1 did computer exercises, of group 2 a series of traditional memory exercises, group 3 reasoning exercises, and group 4 nothing.Members of group 1 underwent at least 10 hours of training in the first five weeks of the program.
The member of group 1 had to identify objects quickly and stay focused while distracting images tried to throw them off.The exercises became more difficult as the members of the group mastered the tasks.
Double Decision was developed by Karlene Ball of the University of Alabama Birmingham and Dan Roekner of Western Kentucky University.These exercises have been used in over 18 clinical trials in seniors to study their cognitive and functional abilities.
Over the next three years, some did more computer training of up to 18 hours of total computer work.As the seniors became faster in their computer training, it resulted in decreased risk of dementia over 10 years at an average of 29 percent, Edwards said.
But for members of the three other groups, there was no significant difference in risk of dementia, according to the research published in Alzheimer's and Dementia: Translational Research and Clinical Interventions.Alzheimer's is the peer-reviewed journal of the Alzheimer's Association.
Not a magic bullet against dementia
However, Rob Howard, a professor of old age psychiatry at University College London, found it rather surprising that the risk of dementia over 10 years was reduced significantly after the seniors had only a few hours of cognitive training.He thinks it is implausible that a brief intervention would yield that kind of effect and urged people to treat the result with caution.
He cautioned against interpreting the current research as a magic bullet against dementia.Howard pointed out that a lot of past studies did not find any benefit or only little benefit in popular online brain-training courses.
Doug Brown, the director of research at Alzheimer's Society, said the study is positive because it covered 10 years and compared several kinds of training.However, he noted that the conclusions about dementia in patients were based on self-reports or the family members of the subjects.He said the limitations of the study make it difficult to confidently agree with its conclusion.
The Florida researchers compared the risk reduction from dementia associated with the brain training to risk reductions that hypertension drugs have done for heart failures, heart disease, or stroke.Dr.Henry Mahncke, the chief executive of Posit Science – which acquired the license to market Double Decision – pointed out that health professionals will not suggest to people with hypertension to forego the protection offered by prescribed blood pressure medication.
Previous research from Harvard Medical School and McLean Hospital found that using the BrainHQ app of Posit Science drove improvements in measurements of overall cognitive ability among bipolar patients.
Dementia patients cost the health care system in the US up to $215 billion annually, according to a 2010 study from the National Institute on Aging, Tech Crunch reported.