Brain training involves various activities such as crosswords, puzzles, and customized video games to challenge and stimulate the brain. Some commercial game providers claim that brain training can help prevent dementia. However, is it what the scientific studies say?
According to some studies, cognitive training can help middle-aged or older adults enhance some aspects of their memory and thinking. No research has yet demonstrated that brain training can prevent dementia. To assess if brain training impacts the onset of cognitive decline or dementia, most studies in this area have been either too small or too brief because it is a relatively new field of study.
Although some evidence indicates that brain training may improve an older person’s ability to manage daily tasks, longer-term studies are required to determine whether or not these activities may reduce a person’s risk of dementia.
What is the theory behind claims about brain training and dementia?
Many people practice brain exercises believing that keeping their minds sharp would help them retain or advance their cognitive talents as they age.
The principle of “use it or lose it” is the foundation for brain training. According to a widely accepted idea, cognitive impairment (a decline in one’s capacity for memory or learning) and dementia are less likely to occur in later life if you constantly challenge your brain.
The argument has originated from the observation that individuals with complex jobs or those who consistently engage in challenging activities like crossword puzzles or acquiring new hobbies throughout their lives appear to have lower risks of dementia.
There are now computer-based brain training games that test cognitive abilities like memory, problem-solving, and reasoning, which can deteriorate with age
What does the research say about brain training and dementia?
According to some studies3, people who engage in cognitively stimulating activities may be less likely to experience cognitive decline and dementia. However, such research cannot conclusively demonstrate that brain training exercises are responsible for lower dementia risk.
While there haven’t been any interventional studies examining the impact of Sudoku or crossword puzzles on cognition and dementia risk in older persons, several of these studies have examined computer brain training games. Most of these studies were small or only followed participants for a brief period. Therefore, there is a lack of solid data to support the claim that brain training games can improve cognitive function in older individuals.
More than 2,800 initially healthy persons 65 and older participated in an ACTIVE study. They attended nearly ten speed-of-processing brain training sessions for five to six weeks. The participants also attended up to four booster training sessions at 11 months and a second set of about four booster sessions at 35 months. The training concentrated on memory, reasoning, and speed of processing information. Scientists tracked the outcomes of participants for ten years, after which they concluded that the cognitive training reduced the risk of dementia by up to 25% in initially healthy older adults compared to the untreated group. Additionally, the participants showed improvement in performing routine tasks like handling money and housekeeping.
A study examined the findings of 52 interventional studies. During the study, the authors found that computerized cognitive training may exhibit minor improvement in older people’s thinking and memory. The investigation also revealed that older individuals who performed the brain training unsupervised did not see an improvement in memory or thinking.
Nearly 7,000 adults over 50 participated in one of the largest studies to date that evaluated computer brain training. The brain training program used in this study put participants’ critical thinking and problem-solving abilities to the test. The outcomes demonstrated that this training program improved reasoning and remembering after six months. The more exercises participants completed, the more likely they exhibited improvements in these brain functions.
Commercial Brain Training Games
Several commercial brain training tools are available on the market. Some studies have analyzed a few tools, but many are still unevaluated. All brain training games may evaluate a different kind of brain function, so it is impossible to generalize the findings of research that examine a specific training program to all of them.
People should exercise caution if they come across commercial products claiming they can stop or slow down cognitive aging because there is currently insufficient proof to support these claims. One of the top producers of commercial brain training games was recently penalized for making exaggerated promises about the advantages of their offering.