The brain is a delicate organ. It requires a very precise balance of hormones and neurochemicals to function properly. If there are any imbalances or defects, the results are very visible. One of the most common examples of this is dementia and Alzheimer’s. These two disorders are the result of a decline in brain function, including memory and critical thinking skills.
With muscular defects, we are able to work out to strengthen the problem area. With digestive problems, we’re able to change up our diet to improve gastrointestinal health. With hormonal imbalances, we can take medications to combat the problems. But with brain problems like Alzheimer’s and dementia, it’s a lot harder to treat the problem directly.
But what if you could do a simple brain-training exercise to prevent dementia? Now THAT would be an exercise worth doing!
Scientists from the University of Indiana gathered a group of more than 2,800 elderly adults for their Advanced Cognitive Training in Vital Elderly, a randomized controlled trial intended to examine the benefits of a cognitive training program. More specifically, THREE different cognitive training programs aimed at memory, reasoning, and speed of processing information.
The adults were divided into four groups:
Control Group – This group received no intervention and didn’t participate in any of the training programs.
Memory Group – This group was taught practices and strategies to improve their memories of events and activities in their lives.
Reasoning Group – This group was taught practices and strategies to help sharpen their reasoning and problem-solving skills.
Speed of Processing Group – This group was assigned computer-based exercises designed to increase the amount and complexity of information they could process, as well as the speed at which they processed that information.
The groups all underwent ten 1-hour sessions over the course of 5-6 weeks. The participants that completed at least 80% of the training course received “booster” sessions—four extra training occurring at 11 and 35 months after the initial training program was completed.
The scientists then followed the participants for 10 years, examining them at Year 2, 3, 5, and 10 to examine how the cognitive training affected them.
What results did the cognitive training achieve?
Of the adults that lived through the 10-year follow-up period, 260 developed dementia. The patients in the speed of processing group had a 29% lower chance of developing dementia than the control group. The memory and reasoning groups both also saw lower incidences of dementia, but the differences were “not statistically significant”.
The outcome was clear: the group that focused on improving their speed of processing information obtained the highest cognitive benefits in the long run!
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The benefits of this type of cognitive training are clear: a significantly lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. In order to provide the benefits down the line, it would be fairly simple to create programs to help train older adults in speed of processing abilities.
Think about it: a couple of times a week, you pop down to your nearest clinic for an hour training session to sharpen your brain’s ability to absorb, categorize, and process information.
The training program involved “computerized adaptive training” software with touch screens. Participants were asked to identify objects in the center of the screen, while also identifying the location of briefly appearing objects in the periphery. The software would adjust the speed and difficulty of the exercises based on how well participants performed.
With just a few hours of this training a month, there’s the chance you can reduce your risk of dementia by as much as 29%. That’s a HUGE improvement!
This is just the first study looking into cognitive training exercises to protect the brain and reduce dementia. But the day may soon come when smartphone apps, computer programs, and even new work tools will be created with this goal of training your brain’s speed of processing. It could soon become a normal part of life to invest time in these exercises. And as this study proved, a bit of time invested could go a long way toward improving the quality of your life as you age!
Even if you don’t get to train your brain every day, that may not be an issue. As the study’s lead author said, “We…consider this a relatively small dose of training, a low intensity intervention. But the persistence — the durability of the effect was impressive.”
A little bit of cognitive training goes a long way!
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