Cognitive Training Does Not Prevent Cognitive Decline

Peter M. Yellowlees, MBBS, MD


August 08, 2018

This is the Medscape Psychiatry Minute. I'm Dr Peter Yellowlees.

Structured activities to stimulate brain function, such as cognitive training exercises, are increasingly promoted as being able to slow or prevent cognitive decline, including dementia, but their effectiveness is highly debated. Now a team of investigators[1] from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, have summarized the evidence on the effects of cognitive training on cognitive performance and incident dementia outcomes for adults with normal cognition or mild cognitive impairment. From only 11 trials with low or medium risk for bias, they found that in healthy older adults, training improved cognitive performance in the domain trained but not in other domains.

Results for populations with mild cognitive impairment suggested no effect of training on performance and that the evidence for the capacity of training to prevent cognitive decline or dementia was insufficient.

Unfortunately, these are not the results we wish to see, given the hype around the potential benefits of cognitive training in the elderly and the number of patients who partake in this, especially via the increasing numbers of computerized programs available. For healthy adults, what seems to be useful is practicing cognitive skills in domains that are of personal value, rather than just taking part in gaming programs where improved performance does not translate to any practical use in real life.

So my message to physicians who are concerned about their cognition is that you should work to keep up-to-date with the relevant medical literature rather than becoming the best game player possible.

Thank you for listening to this Medscape Psychiatry Minute. Do continue to enjoy your practice.


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