Brain training study is ‘truly significant’

Eileen Jacques, from Acomb in York, has Alzheimer's and believes keeping her mind active has helped her.
Eileen Jacques, from Acomb in York, has Alzheimer's and believes keeping her mind active has helped her.
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ONLINE BRAIN training games could have major benefits to older people, helping with anything from grammatical reasoning to everyday tasks such as shopping and cooking, according to the largest study to date.

The Alzheimer’s Society, which funded the study, said the results were “truly significant” and had important implications for policy makers and the NHS.

Eileen Jacques and her husband Richard

Eileen Jacques and her husband Richard

Almost 7,000 people over the age of 50 took part in a six-month experiment. Some were encouraged to play a 10-minute brain-training package as often as they wished. It comprised of three reasoning tasks, such as balancing weights on a see-saw, and three problem-solving tasks, such as putting tiles in numerical order.

Volunteers completed cognitive tests, including assessments of grammatical reasoning and memory, before the study began and again after six weeks, three months and six months. Those over 60 also carried out tests of daily living skills, such as using the telephone or doing shopping.

After six months the over-60s who took part in the brain training were found to have “significant improvements” in carrying out daily tasks, while those over the age of 50 recorded better reasoning and verbal learning.

The improvements were most effective when people played the games at least five times a week.

Dr Doug Brown, from the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Online brain training is rapidly growing into a multimillion-pound industry and studies like this are vital to help us understand what these games can and cannot do.

“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.”

Last month scientists in California and Berlin spoke out against the brain training industry, saying there is “little evidence that playing brain games improves underlying broad cognitive abilities, or that it enables one to better navigate a complex realm of everyday life”.

But other research has shown some promise for brain training in improving memory, though these small-scale studies have been inconclusive.

Dr Anne Corbett, from King’s College London, which carried out the research, said: “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.”

It has launched a new trial to see the long-term impact.

Remaining active, both mentally and physically, has been important to 70-year-old Eileen Jacques since she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s three years ago.

Mrs Jacques, from Acomb, attends a monthly reading group and helps her husband Richard in his architecture business, typing and doing the books.

“I trained as a secretary and these skills haven’t diminished,” she said. “Keeping an active mind has definitely helped me, as has keeping physical, by taking regular walks and going to a weekly yoga class.”