Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Brain Training: It Works, and It Doesn’t Work

The IMPACT study which we report­ed on in Decem­ber 2007, fund­ed by Posit Sci­ence, con­duct­ed by the Mayo Clin­ic and USC Davis, has just announced pub­li­ca­tion at the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Geri­atrics Soci­ety. Ref­er­ence:

- Smith et al. A Cog­ni­tive Train­ing Pro­gram Designed Based on Prin­ci­ples of Brain Plas­tic­i­ty: Results from the Improve­ment in Mem­o­ry with Plas­tic­i­ty-based Adap­tive Cog­ni­tive Train­ing Study. Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Geri­atrics Soci­ety, April 2009.

Com­put­er Exer­cis­es Improve Mem­o­ry And Atten­tion, Study Sug­gests (Sci­ence Dai­ly)

- “The Improve­ment in Mem­o­ry with Plas­tic­i­ty-based Adap­tive Cog­ni­tive Train­ing (IMPACT) study was fund­ed by the Posit Sci­ence Cor­po­ra­tion, which owns the rights to the Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram, test­ed in the study.”

- “Of the 487 healthy adults over the age of 65 who par­tic­i­pat­ed in a ran­dom­ized con­trolled tri­al, half used the Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram for 40 hours over the course of eight weeks. The Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram con­sists of six audio exer­cis­es done on a com­put­er, and is intend­ed to “retrain the brain to dis­crim­i­nate fine dis­tinc­tions in sound, and do it in a way that keeps the user engaged,” Zelin­s­ki explained.” The oth­er half of par­tic­i­pants spent an equal amount of time learn­ing from edu­ca­tion­al DVDs fol­lowed by quizzes.

Com­ment: this is a very inter­est­ing study, in that it shows both that cog­ni­tive train­ing works, and that it does­n’t work.

What do I mean?

Well, it is time we move beyond this super­fi­cial dis­cus­sion on it works/ it does­n’t work, and we start­ed dis­cussing Work for Whom? Work for What?

1) It works: the inter­ven­tion (com­put­er­ized cog­ni­tive train­ing) showed cog­ni­tive ben­e­fits beyond the con­trol (edu­ca­tion­al DVDs fol­lowed by quizzes). This is sig­nif­i­cant both in that it shows that peo­ple over 65 can improve their men­tal abil­i­ties, and that can be done in scal­able ways, thanks to emerg­ing tech­nol­o­gy tools. Obvi­ous­ly more research needs to be done, but results like these would have been con­sid­ered impos­si­ble not so long ago.
2) It does­n’t work: those cog­ni­tive ben­e­fits were close­ly relat­ed to the trained audi­to­ry areas. The results don’t sup­port grandiose claims that the pro­gram “helps reju­ve­nate one’s brain 10 years” or sim­i­lar, which we hear all too often.

This is but one study in a rapid­ly grow­ing area (this one is pret­ty large, and mul­ti-site, and con­duct­ed by inde­pen­dent researchers). The key ques­tions are becom­ing:

- 1) who may ben­e­fit most from improv­ing on spe­cif­ic cog­ni­tive domains- audi­to­ry pro­cess­ing in this case?,
— 2) how can health­care pro­fes­sion­als sup­port patients from a pre­ven­tive and brain main­te­nance point of view (please note the study above had noth­ing to do with Alzheimer’s Dis­ease, but with the enhance­ment of cog­ni­tive func­tions)
— 3) how can con­sumers nav­i­gate the grow­ing num­ber of prod­ucts and claims?

For more on all this, you may enjoy read­ing these notes on Brain Train­ing: No Mag­ic Bul­let, Yet Use­ful Tool. Inter­view with Eliz­a­beth Zelin­s­ki, includ­ing:

- “The pro­gram we used, Brain Fit­ness 2.0, trains audi­to­ry pro­cess­ing. The peo­ple in the exper­i­men­tal group improved very sig­nif­i­cant­ly, which was not that sur­pris­ing. What was very sur­pris­ing was that there was also a clear ben­e­fit in audi­to­ry mem­o­ry, which was­n’t direct­ly trained. In oth­er words, peo­ple who were 75-years-old per­formed audi­to­ry mem­o­ry tasks as well as aver­age 65-year-olds, so we can say they reversed 10 years of aging for that cog­ni­tive abil­i­ty.”

In short, if you are con­sid­er­ing buy­ing some of these new pro­grams, for your­self, your patients, a loved one…you do need to do a bit of home­work. Yes, it would be eas­i­er if there were more spe­cif­ic and cat­e­gor­i­cal answers…but for the time being there aren’t (apart from the gen­er­al guide­lines to stay active phys­i­cal­ly and men­tal­ly, man­age stress lev­els, have a bal­anced nutri­tion). We pub­lished this 10-Ques­tion Pro­gram Eval­u­a­tion Check­list to sup­port your deci­sion process.

Leave a Reply...

Loading Facebook Comments ...

3 Responses

  1. Elizabeth Zelinski says:

    Could you please pro­vide the source of the quote below? I would like to see it in com­plete con­text.

    The results don’t sup­port grandiose claims that the pro­gram “helps reju­ve­nate one’s brain 10 years” or sim­i­lar, which we hear all too often.

  2. Hel­lo Liz,

    I was refer­ring to the mul­ti­ple NPR ads that promise one can improve brain per­for­mance by 10 years by buy­ing prod­uct XYZ. The prod­uct devel­op­er (Posit Sci­ence) seems to base such a claim on your study, which, as I have said before, sounds mis­lead­ing to me. You do pro­vide a more accu­rate descrip­tion of the results of your own study in the quote I high­light above.

    Please let me know if you want me to make any clar­i­fi­ca­tion.

  3. Stacey says:

    I am a strong sup­port­er of cogn­tivie train­ing ‑to me, the research is clear. What I’m strug­gling with as an edu­ca­tor is WHICH pro­gram would help my stu­dents the most in a 1:1 inter­ven­tion mod­el. I don’t have a lot of time with my stu­dents each week, so some­thing I can use a lit­tle at a time would be the best. I’ve con­sid­ered train­ing in PACE (avail­able through Learn­ingRX), but can’t find ANYTHING on your web­site about this company/program. I’d love some feed­back on PACE, if you have some.

Leave a Reply

Categories: Cognitive Neuroscience, Health & Wellness, Technology

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

About SharpBrains

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

Search in our archives

Follow us and Engage via…

RSS Feed

Watch All Recordings Now (40+ Speakers, 12+ Hours)