It’s widely known that certain brain exercises, such as memory games, reasoning tests and crossword puzzles, have the potential to boost our brain health. However, a relatively new method called “Speed Training” that tests mental quickness is getting a lot of attention among dementia and Alzheimer’s disease experts, after some promising research has been put forth.
The results of a new study called ACTIVE (Advanced Cognitive Training in Vital Elderly), led by Jerri Edwards, director of the School of Aging Studies and Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute at the University of South Florida, compared different types of cognitive training in a 10-year trial of 2,832 healthy subjects of the ages of 65 to 94.
Dr. Edwards reported that an initial period of 10 one-hour sessions of speed-processing-based training, with subsequent sessions one and three years later, reduced the participants’ risk of developing dementia 10 years later by a huge 48%. The subjects who underwent solely the initial 10 hours of training had, on average, a 33% lower risk for developing dementia a decade later. The results of the clinical trials were recently presented at the annual Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, and reported widely among news outlets, including The Wall Street Journal.
Speed Training is a form of computerized training designed to increase the speed at which the brain processes cues. Targeting essential cognitive skills that typically weaken with age, the training requires players to look at a computer screen and process visual information in an intensive and repetitive setting.
For example, in the Speed Training’s Double Decision exercise, one of two cartoon objects briefly flashes in middle of the screen, while at the same time, a road sign appears somewhere on the periphery. The user needs to locate a certain object in the center and also locate another target in the periphery, which forces the user to divide his or her attention. As the user gives correct answers, the items flash more quickly, forcing the brain to increase the speed of processing. As the user progresses, the road sign moves further out, additional distractors appear, the objects in the center become more similar and the background layout changes, adding to the level of difficulty. As a result, even more demand is needed for selective attention.
The study, which was funded by the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Nursing Research, included participants who were randomized to receive one of three cognitive-training programs or participate in a control group. The memory and reasoning training, which was not administered via a computer, did not cut the risk for developing dementia, according to the research.
The data from this study has not yet been peer reviewed or published in a medical journal, but adds promise in the efforts to try and prevent the onset and progression of dementia.