Brain Games May Be a Pig in a Poke

November 22, 2014

Some experts say that brain training games can help cognition and reduce dementia risk.   This has given rise to a multi-billion dollar industry of brain games.  Recent research conducted in Australia suggests that many such games are not effective.

The study comprised more than 50 clinical trials and almost 5000 participants.  Scientists found that group-based brain training that included the supervision of an experienced trainer was much more effective for brain strength, memory, recall and processing speed vs. self-directed programs that the user would do at home.

This sends an important message to anyone concerned about cognitive ability.    Cognitive and recall training conducted in a center with an experienced trainer can indeed improve cognition in older adults.   However, commercial offerings marketed for training at home are ineffective.

The study was performed by researchers at the Regenerative Neuroscience Group at the Brain and Mind Research Institute (BMRI), is located at the University of Sydney.

Interestingly, the scientists noted that training up to three times weekly provided an effective routine, but additional training during the week seemed to neutralize benefits.   They concluded that the plasticity of the brain can become saturated if training is performed too often.  Just as with intense physical exercise, it is helpful to rest between sessions.

One of the researchers notes that there is a great deal of controversy about brain games and whether it is helpful in raising cognition in seniors.  The goal of the study was to assess if Computerized Cognition Training, or CCT, effectively improved cognitive ability.  Specific conclusions included the following points:

  • Training in a group environment is significantly more effective vs. home-based games.
  • Training regimes of one to three sessions per week are significantly effective.  Regimes including more than three sessions per week were not.
  • There was no significant benefit of training that focuses specifically on working memory.
  • There is only weak evidence supporting the value of training lasting less than 30 minutes per training session.
  • The scientists offered an important caveat:  there still is no proof of such training prevents or delays dementia.

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