Memory and Performance of Everyday Tasks Improved by Brain Training for Older People

Playing online games that challenge reasoning and memory skills – brain training – could have significant benefits for older people in their day to day lives, according to a new study published today (3 Nov) in JAMDA.

Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London have shown that an online brain training package can not only improve memory and reasoning skills – but also how well older people carry out everyday tasks such as navigating public transport, shopping, cooking and managing personal finances.

After six months, brain training led to significant improvements in scores on the test of daily living in people over 60, and significant improvement in reasoning and verbal learning in those over 50 compared to those who didn’t play the reasoning and problem solving games. Playing the brain training games five times per week was most effective in bringing about these improvements.

While some decline in memory and thinking skills is a normal part of healthy ageing, more severe impairments can be a precursor to dementia, a condition characterised by the progressive loss of ability and function. Previous research has shown that people who have complex occupations or engage in cognitively stimulating activities such as crosswords, puzzles and learning new skills throughout life tend to have lower rates of dementia.

This new study could have important implications for preserving cognitive function in older adults and might offer an effective, easily accessible intervention to help people reduce their risk of cognitive decline later in life.

Dr. Anne Corbett from the Wolfson Centre for Age-Related Diseases at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London, said: ‘The impact of a brain training package such as this one could be extremely significant for older adults who are looking for a way to proactively maintain their cognitive health as they age.

The online package could be accessible to large numbers of people, which could also have considerable benefits for public health across the UK.

Screenshot from Brain Training demo game.

Screenshot from Brain Training demo game. Image is adapted from the King’s College London press release.

‘Our research adds to growing evidence that lifestyle interventions may provide a more realistic opportunity to maintain cognitive function, and potentially reduce the risk of cognitive decline later in life, particularly in the absence of any drug treatments to prevent dementia.’

Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society said: ‘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. 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.

‘With a rapidly ageing population, evidence that this type of brain training has a tangible, real-life benefit on cognitive function is truly significant. As government and society explore ways to enable people to live independently as they get older, this study has important implications for policy makers and public health professionals.

‘Finding ways to help people maintain good brain health and avoid dementia is a key focus for the Society’s research programme and we’re delighted to be funding the next stage of this research. We need as many people over 50 to sign up to help us test the effect of brain training over a longer time period.’

Dr Corbett added: ‘Today we’re launching a new open trial to see how well older people engage with the brain training package over the long-term. We want to investigatehow genetics might affect performance to allow us to better understand how brain training could be used to maintain cognition or even reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.’

About this autism research

Try out the brain training for yourself, with the demo game, available at www.alzheimers.org.uk/braintraining

People over 50 and living in the UK can take part in the new brain training study by registering online at http://www.protectstudy.org.uk/

Funding: Dr Anne Corbett is supported by the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre and Dementia Unit at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London.

Source: Jack Stonebridge – King’s College London Center
Image Source: The image is adapted from the King’s College London press release.
Original Research: Abstract for “The Effect of an Online Cognitive Training Package in Healthy Older Adults: An Online Randomized Controlled Trial” by Anne Corbett, PhD, Adrian Owen, PhD, Adam Hampshire, PhD, Jessica Grahn, PhD, Robert Stenton, BSc, Said Dajani, BSc, Alistair Burns, MD, Robert Howard, MD, Nicola Williams, BSc, Gareth Williams, PhD, and Clive Ballard, MD in JAMDA. Published online October 2015 doi:10.1016/j.jamda.2015.06.014


Abstract

The Effect of an Online Cognitive Training Package in Healthy Older Adults: An Online Randomized Controlled Trial

Introduction
Cognitive training (CT) offers a potential approach for dementia prevention and maintenance of cognitive function in older adults. Online delivery provides a cost-effective means of implementing CT compared with in-person interventions, with the potential of providing an effective public health intervention for risk reduction.

Methods
A double-blind 6-month online randomized controlled trial in adults older than 50 randomized to General CT, Reasoning CT, or control. The primary outcome was instrumental activities of daily living (IADL) in adults older than 60. Secondary outcomes were reasoning, verbal short-term memory, spatial working memory, verbal learning (VL), and digit vigilance in adults older than 50. Secondary analyses were performed with a group defined as showing age-associated impairment in reasoning according to baseline scores in this domain.

Results
A total of 2912 adults older than 60 (6742 > 50) participated. General and reasoning packages conferred benefit to IADL (P = .008, P = .011), reasoning (P < 0.0001, P < .0001), and VL (P = .007, P = .008) at 6 months. Benefit in reasoning was evident from 6 weeks. Other benefits developed over 6 months. Analysis of participants with age-associated impairment also showed the same pattern of benefit. A clear dose-response effect was seen.

Conclusions
Online CT confers significant benefit to cognition and function in older adults, with benefit favoring the Reasoning package. Scale of benefit is comparable with in-person training, indicating its potential as a public health intervention. Impact on the group with age-associated impairment indicates a particular sensitivity to this at-risk group, which merits further investigation.

“The Effect of an Online Cognitive Training Package in Healthy Older Adults: An Online Randomized Controlled Trial” by Anne Corbett, PhD, Adrian Owen, PhD, Adam Hampshire, PhD, Jessica Grahn, PhD, Robert Stenton, BSc, Said Dajani, BSc, Alistair Burns, MD, Robert Howard, MD, Nicola Williams, BSc, Gareth Williams, PhD, and Clive Ballard, MD in JAMDA. Published online October 2015 doi:10.1016/j.jamda.2015.06.014

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