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Posit Science @ GSA: well-designed Brain Training Works

Newsweek’s Sharon Begley writes a great note on Brain Training: How It Works based on initial data presented at the Gerontological Society of America over the weekend. Some quotes:

– With the nation’s 78 million baby boomers approaching the age of those dreaded “where did I leave my keys? moments, it’s no wonder the market for computer-based brain training has shot up from essentially zero in 2005 to $80 million this year, according to the consulting firm SharpBrains.

– Now comes the largest and most rigorous study of a commercially-available training program, and it shows that there is hope for aging brains. This morning, at the meeting of the Gerontological Society of America, scientists are presenting data showing that after eight weeks of daily one-hour sessions with Brain Fitness 2.0 from Posit Science, elderly volunteers got measurably better in their brain’s speed and accuracy of processing. And unlike every other training program tested before, the improvements “generalize to broad measures of cognition and are noticeable in everyday life,” Elizabeth Zelinski of the University of Southern California, who led the IMPACT (Improvement in Memory with Plasticity-based Adaptive Cognitive Training) Study, reports.

– For the IMPACT study, 468 participants, all healthy adults 65 and over, were divided into two groups. One received an hour a day of training on BrainFitness for eight to ten weeks, and the other (the control group) got the same amount of computer-based learning. That choice of control group is significant. It means that Brain Fitness was being compared not to staring into space or some similarly unhelpful activity, but to one that might reasonably be expected to improve mental ability.

– Because the Brain Fitness group showed greater improvements than the controls, including on tasks that the computer-based exercises did not explicitly target, it suggests that the auditory training has altered something fundamental in the brain and not just specific circuits for, say, memory.

Read full post: Brain Training: How It Works

The Gerontological Society of America press release includes

– Researchers released initial data today at the 60th Annual Meeting of The Gerontological Society of America (GSA) that showed that doing the right kind of brain exercise can enhance memory and other cognitive abilities of older adults.

– “We presented these important results at the Annual Meeting of GSA, because aging experts need to spread the word that cognitive decline is not an inevitable part of aging, said Dr. Zelinski. “Doing the properly designed cognitive activities can actually enhance abilities as you age.”

I will be interviewing Elizabeth Zelinski as part of our Neuroscience Interview Series, so keep tuned.

One clarification: this is not the first study to show how cognitive training can generalize beyond the tasks directly trained. Others have already shown an effect on cognitive abilities and even on real-world tasks, on a variety of age groups and trained functions. But the size of it (468 participants) makes it by far the largest that does so, and the effects are very significant and promising.

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