Science says computer brain training can help fight Alzheimer’s

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Computer-based brain training can improve memory and mood in older people with mild cognitive impairment, according to research.

This type of training could play a role in helping prevent dementia before it sets in. A team at Sydney University, reviewing more than 20 years of research, showed that brain training can lead to improvements in memory, learning and attention. The researchers say the method doesn’t work once Alzheimer’s disease has been diagnosed.

Mood and a self-perceived quality of life can also improve for those with mild cognitive impairment, or a decline in memory and other thinking skills.

People with mild cognitive impairment are at 1-in-10 risk of developing dementia within a year.

Alzheimer’s is an increasing problem in Australia, and other developed countries, and a massive drain on health care resources as the population ages. More than 342,000 Australians are living with dementia and this number is expected to increase to 400,000 in less than a decade.

Brain training is a treatment for enhancing memory and thinking skills by practising mentally challenging computer-based exercises designed to look and feel like video games.

Dr Amit Lampit from the university’s school of psychology, who led the study, says the results show it could play an important role in preventing dementia.

“Our research shows that brain training can maintain or even improve cognitive skills among older people at very high risk of cognitive decline — and it’s an inexpensive and safe treatment,” he says.

Associate professor Michael Valenzuela, leader of the regenerative neuroscience group at the Brain and Mind Centre, believes technology is the key to moving the field forward.

“The great challenges in this area are maintaining training gains over the long term and moving this treatment out of the clinic and into people’s homes,” he says.

“This is exactly what we are working on right now.”

Valenzuela is one of the leaders of the Australian Maintain your Brain trial that will test if a tailored program of lifestyle modification, including weekly brain training over four years, can prevent dementia in a group of 18,000 older people.

The results are published today in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

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