Computerised brain exercises improve memory and
14 February 2009
Computerised brain exercises can improve memory and lead to faster
thinking according to a study to be published in the April 2009 issue of
the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society .
Prior studies have shown that older adults perform better on
cognitive tests after repeatedly practicing those tests, but this
large-scale study is the first to link a commercially available software
program to improvement on unaffiliated standard measures of memory and
to better performance on everyday tasks.
The Improvement in Memory with Plasticity-based Adaptive Cognitive
Training (IMPACT) study was funded by the Posit Science Corporation,
which owns the rights to the Brain Fitness Program, tested in the study.
Dr Elizabeth Zelinski, of the USC Davis School of Gerontology and
Glenn Smith, PhD, of the Mayo Clinic were principal investigators on the
study, published with colleagues from the University of California, San
Francisco, Stanford, and California State University, Los Angeles.
Of the 487 healthy adults over the age of 65 who participated in a
randomized controlled trial, half used the Brain Fitness Program for 40
hours over the course of eight weeks. The Brain Fitness Program consists
of six audio exercises done on a computer, and is intended to “retrain
the brain to discriminate fine distinctions in sound, and do it in a way
that keeps the user engaged,” Zelinski explained. The other half of
participants spent an equal amount of time learning from educational
DVDs followed by quizzes.
Those who trained on the Brain Fitness Program were twice as fast in
processing information with an average improvement in response time of
131%. The active control group did not show statistically significant
gains, the researchers found.
According to the researchers, participants who used the Brain Fitness
Program also scored as well as those ten years younger, on average, on
memory and attention tests for which they did not train.
Many participants also reported significant improvements in everyday
cognitive activities such as remembering names or understanding
conversations in noisy restaurants.
“The changes we saw in the experimental group were remarkable — and
significantly larger than the gains in the control group,” Zelinski
said. “From a researcher’s point of view, this was very impressive
because people got better at the tasks trained, [and] those improvements
generalized to standardized measures of memory and people noticed
improvements in their lives. What this means is that cognitive decline
is no longer an inevitable part of aging. Doing properly designed
cognitive activities can enhance our abilities as we age.”
“This study has profound personal and public implications for aging
baby boomers and their parents,” said Joe Coughlin, PhD, Director of the
AgeLab at the Massachusetts Institute Technology. “This means boomers
may now have tools for a future that is not their grandfather’s old age.
It also impacts most aspects of independent living — from aging-in-place
to transportation to all the great and little things that we call life.
This is big news for aging and for all of us.”
The multi-site IMPACT study is the largest study ever of a
commercially available brain-training program.
1. Smith et al. A cognitive training program designed based
on principles of brain plasticity: results from the improvement in
memory with plasticity-based adaptive cognitive training study.
Journal of the American Geriatrics Society: April 2009.
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