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Needed: funding for innovative research on slowing cognitive decline via cognitive training

I was really inter­ested in the recent cri­tique of the BBC brain train­ing exper­i­ment by Dr. Eliz­a­beth Zelin­ski. I think Owens et al (2010) was a crit­i­cal piece of research which was not con­ducted in the right way and was focus­ing on the wrong sam­ple pop­u­la­tion.  I totally agree with the com­ments by Dr. Zelin­ski regard­ing the poten­tial for sam­ple bias and the use of some ques­tion­able cog­ni­tive mea­sures. How­ever, I would like to take this cri­tique fur­ther and ques­tion whether the study was value for money when there are other stud­ies which can­not achieve fund­ing but would, in my opin­ion, show the criticism/scepticism of the use-it-or-lose-it theory.

I think there is not enough crit­i­cism about the age of the sam­ple pop­u­la­tion used in Owens et al. (2010). We have con­clu­sive cog­ni­tive and neu­ro­log­i­cal evi­dence that cognitive/neurological plas­tic­ity exists in young adults. There is also ade­quate evi­dence that neu­ro­plas­tic­ity is evi­dent in older adults. The crit­i­cal point which I want to make about the sam­ple pop­u­la­tion in Owens et al. study is that it did not tar­get the cor­rect sam­ple pop­u­la­tion, that is, older adults who are at risk of cognitive/neuronal atro­phy. It does not mat­ter if younger adults improve on brain train­ing tasks, or if skills picked up by younger adults from brain train­ing are not trans­ferred to other cog­ni­tive domains, sim­ply because younger adults are good at these skills/cognitive func­tions. There­fore there is a pos­si­bil­ity that ceil­ing or scal­ing effects mask the true find­ings in Owens et al. (2010), as indi­cated by Zelinski.

The recruit­ment of the sam­ple pop­u­la­tion is also very con­cern­ing and I do not feel that their con­trol group was appro­pri­ate. Read the rest of this entry »

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