While the increasing life expectancy in industrial nations worldwide over the last decades has certainly been a positive development, one negative side effect of it has been the rise in dementia diagnoses. So far, no cure has been found for this disease, which is one of the reason why science is turning more and more towards preventitive research to fight or at least push back the emergence of dementia.
Staying mentally fit and keeping your brain active is definitely a good way to start in preventing early symptoms of dementia. People who strive to stay mentally engaged in old age build up mental reserves that act as a buffer against mental decline. The following studies give an overview of what has so far been researched about the connection between brain training and the prevention of early signs of dementia.
Studies on dementia
Study : Do brain reserves and an increased mental activity lead to a lower risk of developing symptoms of dementia?
Result : The University of New South Wales in Syndey found that people who had a high mental activity throughout their life had a 45% lower risk of developing dementia.
Source : Valenzuela MJ.Curr Opin Psychiatry. Brain Reserve and the prevention of dementia, 2008 May;21(3):296-302. doi: 10.1097/YCO.0b013e3282f97b1f
Study : Does brain training have any effects on cognitive abilities of older people and are there any beneficial transfer effects on everyday activities?
Result : The University of Alabama showed that brain training had indeed positive effects on cognitive abilities of older people and these benefits were still noticeable two years after their brain training.
Source : Ball K, Berch DB, Helmers KF, Jobe JB, Leveck MD, Marsiske M, Morris JN, Rebok GW, Smith DM, Tennstedt SL, Unverzagt FW, Willis SL; Effects of Cognitive Training Interventions with Older Adults: a randomized controlled trial; JAMA. 2002 Nov 13;288(18):2271-81
Study : Can brain training facilitate everyday activities for older people in the long run?
Result : The Pennsylvania State University conducted a follow-up study 5 years after participants had tried brain training and found that the trained areas still showed visible improvements. The group that had been training their logical thinking still had less difficulties performing daily tasks and the group training their mental ‘speed’ had a higher than average information processing speed.
Source : Willis SL, SL Tennstedt, Marsiske M, Ball K, Elias J, Koepke KM, Morris JN, Rebok GW, Unverzagt FW, Stoddard AM, Wright E; Long-term Effects of Cognitive Training on everyday functional outcomes in Older Adults; JAMA. 2006 Dec 20; 296 (23): 2805-14
Study : Can brain training facilitate everyday activities for older people in the long run? (Original brain training was conducted in 1998)
Result : After 10 years, the Pennsylvania State University conducted another follow-up study and found that participant’s abilities for deductive thinking still showed lasting improvements. Their information processing speed was still higher than average and the trained group stated they were suffering less from difficulties in their daily life than their counterparts that had not trained their mental abilities.
Source: Rebok, G., Ball, K., Guey, LT, Jones, RN, Kim, HY, King, JW, Marsiske, M., Morris, JN, Tennestedt, SL, Unverzagt, FW, & Willis, SL ( 2014). Ten-Year Effects of the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly Cognitive Training Trial on Cognition and Everyday Functioning in Older Adults. Journal of the American Geriatric Society, 62 (1), 16-24.