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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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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters and more, SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking health and performance applications of brain science.

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