Training your brain

Care and cure magazine - Winter 2015

A new study has found that a brain training game can improve reasoning and help with day-to-day activities.

It has often been observed that people who regularly undertake mentally challenging tasks, such as crosswords or Sudoku puzzles, seem to have a lower risk of developing dementia. However, there is a lack of evidence to show whether specially designed 'brain training' packages can reduce dementia risk.

Alzheimer's Society has funded the largest trial to date to investigate whether a bespoke computer-based brain training package can improve cognitive abilities. The study, by researchers at King's College London, recruited almost 7,000 participants over the age of 50 through a unique partnership with the BBC. The participants played computer-based brain training games designed to challenge their reasoning, attention and memory skills over a period of up to six months.

The study found that people over the age of 50 who played the brain training games showed improvements in their reasoning – for example working out which weight on a see-saw was heaviest – when compared to a control group. People over 60 also reported getting on better with their daily activities after playing the games.

'Online brain training is rapidly growing into a multi-million pound industry and studies like this are vital to help us understand what these games can and cannot do,' says Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer's Society. 'While this study wasn't long enough to test whether the brain training package can prevent cognitive decline or dementia, we're excited to see that it can have a positive impact on how well older people perform essential everyday tasks.'

The researchers are using the Alzheimer's Society funding to continue to investigate brain training. In this phase of the study, volunteers will also provide genetic information via a mouth swab to help researchers understand whether genetic differences play a part in how well people respond to the brain training.

If you are aged 50 or over and do not have a diagnosis of dementia, you can sign up to do the brain training as part of the PROTECT study at www.protectstudy.org.uk

Anyone can try a demonstration of the see-saw game used in the study by visitingalzheimers.org.uk/braintraining