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Results of study show first effective intervention against dementia

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Researchers in the United States have released a study showing effective intervention aimed at significantly reducing the risk of dementia.

The findings, first released in the peer-reviewed journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions, were published mid-November following a 10-year study.

It is the first randomised controlled trial to show an intervention effective at lowering the risk of dementia. 

According to the article, Speed of Processing Training Results in Lower Risk of Dementia, a computerised brain exercise licenced exclusively by Posit Science, markedly reduced the risk of dementia among older adults over the decade of the study.

Posit Science makes of the online and app brain training platform known as BrainHQ.

The article reports on the latest results from the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) Study, funded by the National Institutes of Health. That study followed 2,802 healthy older adults for 10 years, as they aged from an average of 74 to 84.

The ACTIVE Study looked at the impact on aging of different types of cognitive training by randomising participants into a control group and three intervention arms:

1) a memory group receiving classroom instruction on memory strategies;

2) a reasoning group receiving classroom instruction on reasoning strategies; and

3) a speed of processing group receiving individualised computerised brain training in a classroom setting.

Participants in the cognitive training groups were asked to engage in a total of 10 sessions of training of about an hour each and conducted over the first five weeks of the study.

All participants were assessed on a number of cognitive and functional measures at the beginning of the study, after the first six weeks, and at the end of years 1, 2, 3, 5 and 10.

Subsets of each intervention group also received four additional booster training sessions in the weeks before the assessments at the end of years 1 and 3. 

At the end of 10 years, researchers found no significant difference in incidence of dementia for the strategy-based memory or reasoning training groups, as compared to the control group. However, the speed of processing group engaged in computerized brain training showed a significant reduction in incidence of dementia – with a 29 percent reduction in the hazard of dementia.

“Relatively small amounts of training resulted in a decrease in risk of dementia over the 10-year period of 29 percent, as compared to the control,” said Dr Jerri Edwards, lead author of the article and a Professor at the University of South Florida, College of Medicine.

“And, when we looked at dose-response, we saw that those who trained more got more protective benefit.”

To place the size and importance of this protective effect in context, the researchers quantitatively compared the risk reduction for dementia from the computerised brain training to the risk reduction for major cardiovascular events, (such as heart failure, heart disease and stroke) yielded by blood pressure medications, and found that this non-pharmacological intervention had a two to four times greater protective effect against its targeted disease condition.

“No health professional would suggest that any person with hypertension forego the protection offered by prescribed blood pressure medication,” said Dr Henry Mahncke, CEO of Posit Science.

“We expect these results will cause the medical community to take a much closer look at the many protective benefits of these exercises in both older and clinical populations.”

The newly published results confirm and extend preliminary results first announced last year.  Those results used a broader definition of dementia to reflect the under-reporting of dementia in the community. The preliminary results, indicating a 33 percent reduction in risk, relative to the control are contained in this report. However, to be more conservative, the authors now also include and highlight a narrower definition of dementia – restricted to reports of a dementia diagnosis or falling below a cut-point on a standard test. Even with the narrower definition, the effects are substantially similar, with a 29 percent reduction in dementia risk at any given point in time for the overall speed group as compared to the control.

Participants in the computerised brain training group were trained on a highly specific task designed to improve the speed and accuracy of visual attention, including both divided and selective attention. To perform the divided attention training task, a user identified an object (i.e., car or truck) at the center of gaze while at the same time locating a target in the periphery (i.e., car). As the user gets the answers correct, the speed of presentation becomes faster.  In the more difficult training tasks, the target in the periphery is obscured by distracting objects.

“This study highlights that not all cognitive training is the same,” Dr Edwards said. “Plasticity-based, computerised, speed of processing training has differentiated itself based both on the data and on the neurophysiological model from which it was developed.”