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Study Finds Link Between Brain Training And A Lower Risk Of Dementia, But There Are Problems

There is still not enough evidence to show that brain training actually helps cut the risk of developing dementia. Dan Kosmayer/Shutterstock

Despite Alzheimer’s affecting millions of people around the planet, and scientists continually researching the disease and pushing our understanding of it, there is still no cure. The best that can be suggested so far is to try and prevent the condition from developing in the first place. To fill this role, a whole host of brain-training exercises have popped up.

Now, a new study claims they have evidence to suggest that at least some forms of these cognitive exercises can help reduce the chances that a patient will go on to develop dementia. Publishing the results in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions, they report that speed training can cut the risk of developing the condition by an impressive 29 percent. Other researchers and clinicians, however, have found issues with the paper.


The study took 2,802 healthy older adults and split them into one of four groups, including a control group. The first was given memory exercises, the second reasoning exercises, and the third speed exercises, which was designed to speed up their visual processing. The participants did these tests over a period of five weeks, with some being given booster sessions a few years later.

After 10 years, the researchers then followed up with them to see who had developed dementia. They found that while the first two did cut the risk a bit, it was not statistically significant. The speed exercises, however, were found to be significant, but only just. And this is where the first main problem with the study lies, as it was right on the boundary.

Other clinicians have also questioned the research, as it was not actually started to investigate if the exercises could cut the risk of dementia. Instead, the results were merely an offshoot from another project. And that’s when we arrive at the biggest problem with the study, as all the participants were asked to self-diagnose themselves with the condition at the end of the 10 years. This, needless to say, is not ideal.

“I find it implausible that such a brief intervention could have this effect and it is worth bearing in mind that the results could have occurred by chance or as a consequence of uncontrolled confounding factors,” explains Rob Howard, Professor of Old Age Psychiatry at University College London, and who was not involved in the study. “On the basis of this study, I won’t be recommending speed of processing training to my friends or patients.”


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