Some Brain Training Programs are Backed by Evidence. Here’s how to pick them – The Conversation

Extract from an article by Dr Tejal Shah: works as a post doctoral research fellow for the Australian Alzheimer’s Research Foundation, Hollywood Private Hospital, Perth, Western Australia.

Brain training has been touted as a way to prevent age-related cognitive decline. Many products are available for purchase. But are any actually effective?

We reviewed the merits of peer-reviewed clinical intervention studies that investigated commercial computerised brain training products in healthy people aged over 50 years.

We identified seven programs whose claims of efficacy were supported by evidence, but only two of these met our highest standards. These were BrainHQ and Cognifit.

Exercises from BrainHQ continuously adjusted difficulty depending on how the user was performing. One set of exercises included matching pairs of confusable syllables, reconstructing sequences of verbal instructions, and identifying details in a verbally presented story.

Other sets of exercises are visually engaging – for example, in one of the exercises the user is assumed to be a gardener. To grow plants, the user has to match pictures after they appear briefly on screen, one after the other.

Exercises from Cognifit contain 21 different tasks. In one of the tasks a hot-air balloon flies in the sky. On its way, it lands on different clouds. The user has to remember and reproduce its exact route.

In another task, a letter grid appears in the centre of the screen. A picture of a well-known object appears in the lower left corner of the screen and the user has to find the name of this object spelled out in the letter grid.

Overall, both programs provided reasonable clinical evidence to support healthy brain ageing. Healthy brain ageing is a broad term that focuses on sustaining cognitive function and capacity to function independently as we age.

Less than 40% of programs come with evidence

To determine if particular brain training exercises are effective, it’s important to look at the scientific evidence behind these exercises and the purpose for which they are recommended (for example, to promote healthy brain ageing, or for dementia or other neurological diseases), and to understand the principle behind the design of such exercises.

We identified 18 computerised brain training programs available across the world that were marketed with scientific claims. Of these, only seven programs (less than 40%) had been assessed by peer-reviewed studies that reported formal outcome measures of the programs on specific cognitive domains such as memory, reasoning, processing speed and executive functions. We selected studies that had been conducted in healthy adults, aged at least 50 years.

SOURCE: Shah, Tejal. “Some brain training programs are backed by evidence. Here’s how to pick them.” The Conversation, 23 February 217

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