Computer Training May Keep Older Brains Sharp

Fran Lowry

July 05, 2013

Computer-based brain-fitness tools can help older adults improve their memory and language skills, new research shows.

A randomized trial conducted in a retirement community of older adults who were without dementia showed that individuals who participated in brain training exercises improved their cognitive abilities compared with their counterparts who did not do the exercises.

"There have been several studies that have examined memory training in a classroom setting, including our own, but there hasn't been much that has examined computerized brain training programs, except for research on the Posit Science programs," lead author Karen J. Miller, PhD, from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Longevity Center, told Medscape Medical News.

"Because of this, we wanted to investigate if computerized brain training is effective at improving memory in seniors. And it is."

The study was published in the June issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

Brain-Fitness Important

Dr. Miller and her team randomly assigned 69 seniors (mean age, 81.8 years; standard deviation [SD], 6.1), 67% women, either to use a computer program for 20 to 25 minutes a day, 5 days a week, for 6 months (n = 36 seniors) or to a wait-list group (n = 33 seniors).

The computer program was called Dakim BrainFitness (Dakim Inc., Santa Monica, California), a computerized brain-fitness program that trains individuals through more than 400 exercises in the areas of short- and long-term memory, language, visual-spatial processing, reasoning and problem-solving, and calculation skills.

The researchers found that in the setting of a retirement home, the program improved memory and language skills.

More specifically, for participants in the training program, the Delayed Memory composite score, which was composed of 3 memory tasks, including 2 verbal tasks and 1 visual task, improved significantly (P = .01) compared with those in the wait-list group.

"Playing at least 40 sessions over the 6 months improved the immediate memory, delayed memory, and language domains," Dr. Miller said.

"Patients, whether they have normal memory or mild memory problems, should engage in some type of memory training or brain fitness on a regular basis a couple times a week for at least 25 minutes," she said.

Weak Design

Commenting on the findings for Medscape Medical News, David S. Knopman, MD, of the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, said the fact that the researchers observed improvement in delayed recall in those in the active treatment group is "interesting, but there are a number of weaknesses in the study design."

"The most obvious one is that a 'wait-list' control group is not really adequate, as the amount of effort expended by the treatment group would likely motivate them to focus on their performance at the follow-up testing," he said.

"It is also the case that the treatment group, for whatever reason, did more poorly than the control group at baseline on the recall measures, making it slightly easier for them to achieve an improvement at follow-up. It is unfortunate that the authors did not devise a more convincing control group," he added.

The study was supported in part by Dakim, Inc. Dr. Miller and senior author Prabha Siddarth, PhD, report having served as consultants to Dakim, Inc. Dr. Knopman reports no relevant financial relationships.

Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2013;21:655-663. Abstract

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