How Providers Can Reduce Neurodegenerative Disease Risk

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Brain training exercise may help treat patients with conditions such as dementia.

Despite numerous companies coming out with brain-training products that promise to help sharpen aging minds, new research shows that only one type of computerized brain training significantly reduces the risk of dementia.

In a study presented at the American Psychological Association’s Annual Convention, researchers analyzed the effectiveness of a brain training exercise called speed of processing training, which is also known as a useful field of view training.

“The mistake some people make is thinking that all brain training is the same," said presenter Jerri Edwards, PhD, of the University of South Florida. “Lumping all brain training together is like trying to determine the effectiveness of antibiotics by looking at the universe of all pills, and including sugar pills and dietary supplements in that analysis. You'll find that some work and some do not. To then conclude that brain training does not work -- or is not yet proven -- is based on flawed analysis.”

In addition to the meta-analysis, researchers also released findings from their Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) study, which is the first large scale, randomized trial to test the long-term outcomes from brain training on preventing cognitive impairment in daily lives.

The ACTIVE study enrolled 2832 participants between 65- and 94-years-old, consisting of 74% white, 26% African American, and 76% female participants. The results of the ACTIVE study showed that the risk for dementia was reduced by 48% over 10 years in adults who completed 11 or more sessions of the brain-training technique.

More specifically, the risk of dementia was reduced by 8% for every completed session of speed of processing training.

“This highly specific exercise is designed to improve the speed and accuracy of visual attention or someone’s mental quickness,” Edwards said.

According to Edwards, in one task, a person is required to identify an object at the center of a screen while locating a target, such as another car, in the individual’s peripheral vision. As time goes on, and people continue to practice the task, it takes less time to locate the peripheral object even when the object becomes harder to see.

For more difficult tasks, the peripheral target is surrounded by other objects for distraction, forcing the person to work hard to stay focused. The findings suggest that participants who completed the speed of processing training saw improvements across standard cognition, behavioral, functional, and real world measures.

“Some brain training does work, but not all of it,” Edwards said. “People should seek out training backed by multiple peer-reviewed studies. The meta-analysis of this particular speed of processing training shows it can improve how people function in their everyday lives.”

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