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Brain training games help older adults perform essential tasks, study finds

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h5919 (Published 04 November 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h5919
  1. Anne Gulland
  1. 1London

Online “brain training” games can improve the cognitive skills of older adults and help them perform day to day tasks such as shopping and managing finances, a study has found.1

Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London found that playing a daily 10 minute game challenging reasoning and memory skills could benefit for older people.

The double blinded study recruited 6742 adults over the age of 50—some through a BBC television programme, Bang Goes the Theory—and were split into three groups. One group of 2557 participants played games testing problem solving and reasoning, and a second group of 2432 played games testing maths, visuospatial skills, attention, and memory. The rest of the participants were put in a control group and played a game where they were asked to put a series of statements in the correct numerical order, using the internet to find the correct answers.

Participants were recommended to play the games for 10 minutes every day.

All participants completed a series of cognitive tests, including measures of grammatical reasoning and memory, before they started the study, which was funded by the Alzheimer’s Society. These tests were repeated at six weeks, three months, and six months. Participants over the age of 60 were also assessed on daily living skills such as using the telephone, managing finances, navigating public transport, and doing the shopping.

Among participants older than 50, both sets of games conferred significant benefit to reasoning when they were compared with the control group. And among adults over 60 playing the games also helped improve activities of daily living (P=0.008 and P=0.011), reasoning (P<0.0001 and P<0.0001), and verbal learning (P=0.007 and P=0.008) at six months. Those playing the games five times a week saw the greatest benefit.

Researchers said that previous studies had shown that brain training had benefits but that those studies were small and focused on younger people. Other studies have also involved intensive sessions, which would be expensive to implement.

Anne Corbett, lead author of the paper, said that the study was now open to the general public to test how the games are used in the long term.

She added, “The impact of a brain training package such as this one could be extremely significant for older adults who are looking for a way to proactively maintain their cognitive health as they age. The online package could be accessible to large numbers of people, which could also have considerable benefits for public health across the UK.”

Doug Brown, director of research and development at Alzheimer’s Society, said that although the study did not test whether the games could prevent cognitive decline or dementia, it was good that they seemed to help older people perform day to day tasks.

“Online brain training is rapidly growing into a multi-million pound industry, and studies like this are vital to help us understand what these games can and cannot do,” he said.

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h5919

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