Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


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 

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.

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