Review explores potential benefits of computer brain training in older people

Researchers in Australia have reviewed data from 51 trials to look at the benefits of computer brain training.

Posted on 18th November 2014

A review of existing evidence suggests that computer ‘brain training’ programmes may have some small benefits for older people, but that more evidence is required to know how long these benefits might last. The study, which pulls together data from 51 separate trials, is published on Tuesday 18 November in the journal PLOS Medicine.

Researchers at the University of New South Wales, in Australia, looked at data from 51 trials of computer brain training involving a total of 4,885 people. Each trial set out to test the effects of these programmes on older people without dementia. Participants either had no computer training, or took part in a number of sessions of varying lengths – the shortest lasting for 15 minutes and the longest lasting for two hours. Training programmes varied, with the shortest involving three sessions in total, carried out once a week, while longer programmes involved up to 60 sessions in total and up to seven sessions a week. A series of tests were also used to measure people’s thinking and memory, both before and immediately after the training programmes.

Overall, the researchers found that those who took part in a training programme had slightly better scores on some tests compared to those who had no training. However, computer training programmes that were carried out at home, rather than in a supervised group, had no effect on people’s cognitive scores, and programmes with more than three sessions per week were no more effective than those with fewer weekly sessions.

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:

“While this review of evidence suggests some computer ‘brain training’ programmes may cause some small improvements in some cognitive scores and not others, it’s not clear whether these improvements translate into any real-world benefits. The trials included in this review did not look at dementia, and it’s not possible to know from this review how long the reported improvements seen in these trials might last. Other research has already suggested that keeping mentally active throughout life may help lower the risk of dementia, but this latest study does not tell us anything about computer brain training programmes and dementia risk. People should bear this in mind when faced with an array of advertising material for such products.

“Investment in research is vital to understand how to promote good brain health and prevent dementia, which now affects over 830,000 people in the UK. Although there is currently no sure-fire way to prevent dementia, by eating a healthy, balanced diet, not smoking, and keeping blood pressure and weight in check, we can help to reduce the risk of the condition.”

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