As an official BAW partner, we are happy to contribute to this global campaign and present an exciting interview with Dr. Amit Lampit, Academic Unit for Psychiatry of Old Age, University of Melbourne, Australia.
NeuroNation: Can you please tell us something about your work and your current research?
Dr. Lampit: I’m a clinical neuroscientist specializing in developing, testing and implementing cognitive training interventions across the lifespan and brain disorders, especially in older people at risk for cognitive decline and dementia. I’m also very interested in technologies that can combine cognitive training with other beneficial interventions such as physical exercise and smart home technologies.
NeuroNation: How did you become interested in brain training?
Dr. Lampit: My initial interest was in the potential of cognitive training to enhance human performance, especially academic and vocational functioning. For example, my first study found that a cognitive training program targeting attention and working memory can improve performance of bookkeeping tasks in a sample of business school students. This work was inspired by a number early studies that found strong effects of cognitive training on job performance in populations ranging from flight cadets to people with mental disorders. We now know that nearly everyone can improve their cognition, and such improvements may transfer into everyday life.
NeuroNation: The saying goes: “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. So: can the aging brain benefit from brain training?
Dr. Lampit: We have now excellent evidence that, on average, cognitive training does improve cognitive function in older people. However, not all ‘brain training’ programs are equally effective and not all people will respond the same. Therefore, while we can carefully say that cognitive training can be beneficial in general, we still have a lot of work to do in order to find which programs are more effective, for whom and what changes in the brain can explain these effects.
NeuroNation: If brain training is good also for the aging brain, can it be used to prevent or cure age-related diseases like dementia?
Dr. Lampit: Cognitive training does seem to be beneficial for older people with overt cognitive decline, such as those with mild cognitive impairment or Parkinson’s disease. However, it appears that once someone has been diagnosed with dementia, they are unlikely to benefit from training. This leaves the possibility that cognitive training might help delay the onset or reduce the risk of dementia. This exciting possibility is now examined in several large clinical trials around the world.
NeuroNation: Which types of training are most efficient for that purpose?
Dr. Lampit: The general principles for effective cognitive training are similar to those of physical exercise. First, just like good exercise trains different muscle systems, cognitive training should be diverse enough to cover a variety of cognitive domains (that is, different memory and thinking principles). Second, just like working out with a trainer or in an exercise class is usually more efficient that training alone, supervision by an experienced clinician or in groups appears to be much more beneficial than training solo at home. Third, it is very logical to assume that personalized training programs that target our individual needs (which some experts call ‘cognitive profiles’) would be most efficient. For that reason, computerized training is a promising approach because it can ‘learn’ our needs and adjust training difficulty and content to our abilities, making sure training is always challenging but not over the top.
NeuroNation: Finally, what do you consider the most important finding (to date) in brain research on dementia? And which research questions are still unresolved?
Dr. Lampit: Perhaps our most important understanding is that dementia is not a single disease, but a complex syndrome with various causes and symptoms. Luckily, we now know that lifestyle has an important role in determining our dementia risk. Keeping our body and brain active throughout life, controlling our blood pressure and diet, avoiding smoking and treating diabetes and depression can reduce our risk for developing dementia by up to one half. These are things nearly everyone can do and it’s never too late to start.
NeuroNation: Thank you for the interview, Dr. Lampit.