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The Benefits of a One-Time Cognitive Training Program Do Last but Wane Over Time

Do you remem­ber the IMPACT study pub­lished in 2009? It was a ran­dom­ized clin­i­cal tri­al with healthy old­er adults that com­pared a com­put­er-based cog­ni­tive pro­gram that trains audi­tory pro­cess­ing (Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram, Posit Sci­ence) with edu­ca­tion­al video pro­grams (con­trol group). Peo­ple who used the pro­gram improved in the trained tasks, which was not that sur­pris­ing, but there was also a clear ben­e­fit in audi­tory mem­ory, which wasn’t direct­ly trained.

A 2011 paper reports the 3-month fol­low-up results of the IMPACT study. The 487 par­tic­i­pants in the orig­i­nal study were 65 and old­er. Train­ing was 1 hour a day, 4 to 5 days a week, for a total of 40 hours in 8 to 10 weeks. There was no con­tact with the researchers between the ini­tial train­ing study and the fol­low-up study.

The results showed that 3 months after the ini­tial train­ing most of the improve­ment observed in the train­ing group was still present, although not as strong­ly. Read the rest of this entry »

Does cognitive training work? (For Whom? For What?)

The grow­ing field of cog­ni­tive train­ing (one of the tools for brain fit­ness) can appear very con­fus­ing as the media keeps report­ing con­tra­dic­to­ry claims. These claims are often based on press releas­es, with­out a deep­er eval­u­a­tion of the sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence.

Let’s take a cou­ple of recent exam­ples, in suc­ces­sive days:

It doesn’t work!” type of head­line:
Reuters (Feb. 10, 2009)  For­mal brain exer­cise won’t help healthy seniors: research
Healthy old­er peo­ple shouldn’t both­er spend­ing mon­ey on com­put­er games and web­sites promis­ing to ward off men­tal decline, the author of a review of sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence for the ben­e­fits of these “brain exer­cise” pro­grams says.

It works! type of head­line:
Sci­enceDai­ly (Feb. 11, 2009)  “Com­put­er Exer­cis­es Improve Mem­o­ry And Atten­tion, Study Sug­gests”
Accord­ing to the researchers, par­tic­i­pants who used the Brain Fit­ness Pro­gram also scored as well as those ten years younger, on aver­age, on mem­o­ry and atten­tion tests for which they did not train.

So, does struc­tured brain exer­cise / cog­ni­tive train­ing work or not?

The prob­lem may in fact reside in ask­ing this very ques­tion in the first place, as Alvaro point­ed out a while ago in his arti­cle Alzheimer’s Dis­ease: too seri­ous to play with head­lines.

We need a more nuanced set of ques­tions.

Why? Because:
1. Cog­ni­tion is made of sev­er­al dif­fer­ent abil­i­ties (work­ing mem­o­ry, atten­tion, exec­u­tive func­tions such as deci­sion-mak­ing, etc)
2. Avail­able train­ing pro­grams do not all train the same abil­i­ties
3. Users of train­ing pro­grams do not all have the same needs or goals
4. We need to dif­fer­en­ti­ate between enhanc­ing cog­ni­tive func­tions and delay­ing the onset of cog­ni­tive deficits such as Alzheimer’s.

Let’s illus­trate these points, by Read the rest of this entry »

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? Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Games for Kids, Adults…and Chimps

examples of working memoryDid you read about the recent exper­i­ment where young chimps dis­played amaz­ing visu­al work­ing mem­o­ry capa­bil­i­ty, beat­ing humans? You can watch a short video about it 

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And, you can now test your own skills with the Chimp Game!

 

PS: Enjoy these 50 brain teasers to test your cog­ni­tive abil­i­ty.

 

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.

About SharpBrains

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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