Study shows brain exercises can reduce risk of dementia

A new study shows encouraging results which show mental exercises can markedly reduce the chances of the onset of dementia in the elderly.

A cognitive training program for healthy elderly adults targeting speed of processing reduced the risk for dementia nearly in half over a 10-year period in the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) study.

The study's results were presented Sunday in Toronto at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference (AAIC) 2016.

"We believe this is the first time a cognitive training intervention has been shown to protect against cognitive impairment or dementia in a large, randomized controlled trial," Jerri Edwards of the School of Aging Studies and Byrd Alzheimer's Institute, University of South Florida, in Tampa, an author of the study, said in a statement.

The ACTIVE study was conducted at six sites in the U.S. and assessed the effect of three different cognitive training programs on time to incident dementia in 2,785 community-dwelling adults aged 65 years and older (average age, 73.6 years) who had no evidence of cognitive impairment or dementia at entry.

After finishing baseline tests of memory, reasoning, and speed-of-processing abilities, the participants were randomly allocated to classroom-based memory strategies, classroom-based reasoning strategies, computerized speed-of-processing training, or a noncontact control group, according to a statement.

The participants had 10, 60-minute training sessions conducted over five weeks; some participants received "booster" sessions (an additional four sessions about one year after the original training, and four more sessions about three years after the original training). Researchers measured cognitive and functional changes immediately following the training sessions and at one, two, three, five and 10 years after the training.

After 10 years, only the speed-of-processing training group showed a statistically significant impact on cognition, according to a statement. The researchers detected a 33 percent reduction (p=0.012) in new cases of cognitive impairment or dementia in those assigned to the speed training group. Participants who did the booster sessions those who participated in 11 or more sessions of the computerized training showed a 48 percent reduction in news cases of cognitive decline or dementia. There was no significant difference in the other two training groups.

Participants in the speed-of-processing group were trained on a specific task designed to improve the speed and accuracy of visual attention. The user identifies an object (i.e., a truck) at the center of his/her gaze while at the same time identifying a target in the periphery (i.e., a car). As the user gets the answers correct, the speed of presentation becomes progressively briefer, while the targets become more similar. In the more difficult training tasks, the target in the periphery is obscured by distracting objects.

"The Alzheimer's Association believes there is sufficiently strong evidence to conclude that lifelong learning and certain types of cognitive training may reduce the risk of cognitive decline," Carrillo said in a statement. "These new 10-year findings are evidence that it may hold true for dementia as well as cognitive decline."