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Brain Training for Dementia

Katherine O'Brien
By Katherine O'BrienSeptember 2, 2016
Brain Training for Dementia

Although there’s no magic bullet that will prevent dementia, there are some activities that can keep your brain in shape, including an active lifestyle, certain types of training and socially complex work. 

Brain Training Programs for Dementia

If you are wondering what you or your elderly loved one can do to keep dementia at bay, you might rest a little easier knowing that something as enjoyable as brain training games might do the trick.

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According to a study presented at the 2016 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference this July, computerized brain training programs can cut the chance of cognitive decline nearly in half over a 10-year period.

1. Computerized Brain Training

The Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly compared the effects of three forms of brain training in a group of 2,832 cognitively healthy seniors. For those who participated in computerized brain training exercises, the cumulative risk of developing cognitive decline over 10 years was 33% lower than for participants who got no training at all. The risk was even lower — a whopping 48% lower — among a smaller group of computerized-training participants who got “booster sessions.” The scientists say this is the first time a cognitive training intervention has been shown to protect against dementia in a large, randomized, controlled trial.

The computerized brain training was designed to increase the speed of visual processing, a cognitive skill that declines with age. The training is commercially available as the Double Decision game, which exercises a game player’s ability to detect, remember and respond to cues that appear and disappear rapidly on a computer screen.

2. Strategy-Based Reasoning Training

There is also recent research from the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas showing that strategy-based reasoning training can improve the cognitive performance for those with a mild impairment. Study participants who received and practiced strategies on how to absorb and understand complex information, improved in executive function, shown by their ability to recall more important items over less important ones. In addition, the number of details that participants could retain after just one exposure to information improved. This study, done in collaboration with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, was published online recently in the journal International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

3. Socially Complex Jobs

In addition to training, there is also evidence that suggests the type of work you perform can affect memory decline. People who hold jobs involving complex interactions with others fare the best as their brains age, according to a study that was also presented at the aforementioned Alzheimer’s conference. In the study, brain scans showed that participants with complex jobs were cognitively healthy, even though their brains showed higher numbers of white matter lesions, which are markers of Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Ozioma Okonkwo, of the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, says the study is further proof of the theory of “cognitive reserve,” which describes the brain’s resilience and ability to maintain function despite injury. Intelligence as well as  education and occupation all contribute to cognitive reserve, according to this article on strategies to prevent memory loss. In it, Dr. Zaldy Tan, a professor at Harvard Medical School’s Division of Aging, points out that people with higher education and intelligence have greater brain reserves, meaning “their brain can take more hits” before they develop dementia. Even if you or your loved one haven’t been high achievers you can still take heart. In this same article, psychiatry professor Dr. George Rebok, says that regardless of educational or occupational background, people who engage in a more active lifestyle can improve certain areas of their mental functioning, potentially delaying or preventing memory loss.

Have you or a loved one participated in brain training or other activities in order to prevent memory decline? How have they helped? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Katherine O'Brien
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Katherine O'Brien

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