There’s new hope for baby boomers who are fast approaching the age at which they will be most vulnerable to developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. A new study of 2,802 seniors has led researchers to conclude that an inexpensive intervention involving visual training exercises can cut the likelihood of cognitive decline by nearly half over a 10-year period.
The ACTIVE study — short for Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly — was funded by the National Institute on Aging. All participants were cognitively healthy seniors with an average age of 73.4 at the study’s start. They were divided into four study groups:
- No training
- Classroom-based course designed to impart strategies aimed at boosting memory
- Classroom-based course designed to sharpen participants’ reasoning skills
- Computerized training designed to increase the speed at which the brain picks up and processes cues in a person’s field of vision
The participants who received training got 10 hour-long training sessions over a five-week period.
The results over the study’s 10-year follow-up showed that 14 percent of participants who received no training suffered significant cognitive decline or dementia. Two of the three treatment groups fared slightly better: significant cognitive decline or dementia occurred in 11.4 percent of the memory-strategies training group, and in 11.7 percent in the reasoning-strategies training group.
In the group who received computerized training to improve speed of processing, 10.5 percent experienced these conditions; however, when significant cognitive decline or dementia appeared, it came later.
Statistically speaking, the cumulative risk of developing cognitive decline or dementia over 10 years was 33 percent lower for those who had received the visual processing training compared with those who got no training at all. And when researchers gave a small group of seniors a refresher class 11 and 35 months after the initial training, the risk of cognitive decline or dementia went down even further — making them 48 percent less likely over 10 years to experience dementia or cognitive decline.
The computerized brain-training program is called “Double Decision.” It uses a gaming format that exercises an individual’s ability to detect, remember and respond to cues that appear and disappear quickly in varying locations on a computer screen. It uses colorful graphics and challenges players with escalating difficulty as their proficiency increases. This video explains the game in more detail.