Researchers at Odds as to Whether Brain Training Helps Prevent Alzheimer’s

By Paul Briand, Baby Boomer Expert and Journalist

The aging Baby Boomer brain is fertile ground for researchers … and debate.

A big question is whether training the brain will help Baby Boomers reduce the incidence of Alzheimer’s and other similar types of disease that deal with dementia. The thinking is that if exercise for the body can extend a healthy life, perhaps exercise for the brain can extend a healthy mind.

But some of that currently conventional thinking has been undermined by studies that suggest specific training for the brain neither helps nor hurts aging brain matter. An April study published in the journal Nature dispels the notion that brain training does any good. The research basically says it can’t find evidence to support that it helps stave off dementia.

“There were absolutely no transfer effects” from the training tasks to more general tests of cognition, said Adrian Owen, a neuroscientist at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Cognition and Brian Sciences Unit in Cambridge, UK, who led the study.

“I think the expectation that practicing a broad range of cognitive tasks to get yourself smarter is completely unsupported,” he added in a Nature News website story about the study.

Basically, the researchers had the subjects work at various programs for 10 minutes at a time. They said they found the people that did the brain training programs had no better cognitive results than people who surfed the web doing research.

The brain training industry market was worth $265 million last year. About $95 million of that came from consumers who bought commercially available programs, and they’ve been vocal about their defense of their products.

Dr. Ken Gibson, founder and president of nationally franchised brain-trainer LearningRx, pointed out that the study participants were using the brain training programs for 10 minutes a day.

“From what I can determine about this study, people played games or did research for ten minutes a day, three times a week for six weeks. That alone is certainly and obviously not nearly enough time to get any type of improvement,” said Gibson in a statement.

“To simply jump to the conclusion that these results prove brain training doesn’t work is ridiculous and irresponsible. I doubt that doing jumping jacks ten minutes, three times a week for 10 weeks would result in any measurable increase in your physical fitness.”

Added Gibson: “Our results confirm what so many other studies and even functional MRIs prove – brain training can improve the brain and boost IQ.”

Likewise, Dr. Henry Mahncke, vice president of research at Posit Science, another brain fitness provider, questioned the methods used in the survey.

“It would be like concluding that there are no compounds to fight bacteria because the compound you tested was sugar and not penicillin,” he said in a statement.

Mahncke cited studies – Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Southern California – and said they “have shown real-world improvements including improved memory and attention, greater functional independence and better quality of life.”

About the Author
Paul Briand spent 33 years in newspaper journalism. Based in New Hampshire, he now writes about issues of interest to Baby Boomers.

Read even more of Paul Briand’s published articles here.

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