An interesting article in Nature Reviews last month reviewed several studies showing that cognitive intervention can be beneficial even for individuals already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease (Buschert et al., 2010).
The article shows that patients with mild-to-moderate dementia can benefit from a range of cognitive interventions: from training of partially spared cognitive functions to training on activities of daily living. Results suggest that such interventions can improve global cognition, abilities of daily living and quality of life in these patients.
Patients with moderate-to-severe dementia seem to benefit from general engagement in activities that enhance cognitive and social functioning in a non-specific manner.
In general, for patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, the reviewed studies suggest that programs focusing on global cognitive stimulation are more effective than programs that train specific cognitive functions.
The opposite seems true for people diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). As you may remember, MCI diagnosis is made upon objective memory deficits that do not interfere with activities of daily living. 5 to 10% of people with MCI develop dementia within 1 year after being diagnosed.
It is interesting to see that the type of cognitive intervention one may benefit from changes over the years, depending on one’s cognitive status. This shows once again that there is no general magic pill in terms of brain fitness: Some interventions or programs work because they meet the needs of some specific individuals. No program can work for everybody.
According to Buschert and colleagues (2010) programs focusing on global cognitive stimulation could delay the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease “by 5 years in patients who will eventually develop this condition. As a result, the prevalence of AD could decrease by 50%, leading to substantial personal, social and economic benefits.”
The authors conclude that efforts to develop and implement cognitive-based intervention for the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease must be pursued. Indeed, cognitive interventions have several advantages compared to pharmacological treatments: a) lower costs, b) no side effects, and c) higher cost-effectiveness (on average, anti-dementia drugs delay cognitive decline by only 6–12 months).